posted by Adam S on Mon 9th Dec 2002 19:10 UTC

"Month with a Mac, Part II"

iChat, which is an AIM tool, is clearly one of the cooler Mac apps. Taking AIM to another level, it mimics conversation bubbles. Sherlock, the so-called "service provider that happens to use your browser," is Apple's answer to Ask Jeeves times 10 - ask Sherlock anything, and he can supposedly do it. I won't get into making DVDs or using iPhoto or many of the other benefits of OS X, because there are scores of applications and features for which one should commend Apple's product. But this review is not of the awesome superpower applications that come with OS X, it's about the whole product.

What's much more impressive than the apps bundled with MacOS is the installation of new software. No Installshield or Red Carpet or Red Hat Network to fool with. Simply download the file, decompress it, drop the directory in your Applications folder (or any folder, really), and BANG!, you're ready to go. After downloading Fire, an e-mail chat program that can connect to MSN and Yahoo as well as AIM, I found it took me just seconds to get the application to run. In the day and age where disc space is so cheap, I think it's smart to just have all necessary files in the same directory with the application. Should make programming and installing easy. Do most users care if they have a duplicate library, dll, or config file, at probably 4k, or even 4MB, installed? Probably not. This is the best and simplest application installation possible for a power user. While app installers like IRIS and Click-N-Run are probably the least work, I had complete control with Mac installation - I wasn't confined to any defaults or preprogrammed file structures. In my book, this method, also used frequently by the BeOS, my favorite. It's a real plus for OS X that software installation and management is so easy. Deleting most apps is as simple as deleting the folder it's in.

Finding applications to install for Jaguar is not hard. Apple offers downloads on their own site, there are websites, most notably,, a FreshMeat-like Mac counterpart. It's generally pretty easy to find "Stuff-It archives," which OS X can decompress a la Windows XP's zip handling capabilities. I was glad to see OS X also handle zip and tag.gz files (it failed to decompress my .rar files.) A simple Google search will show you that many sites offer downloads of Mac apps. The UNIX-based core and inclusion of GCC make it possible to download source code and compile applications locally. Most apps, however, are easily installable via drag and drop to the folder of your choice within your file structure.

Speaking of file structures, the Mac is UNIX-based. Based on a (now dated) incarnation of FreeBSD, your Mac is super-stable. In fact, I experienced exactly ONE error the entire time I was in possession of the Mac. But what's most clever about OS X is how it hides its UNIX underpinnings from you. In fact, if you didn't know you were running on UNIX, what you'd see is a list of directories that look like logical divisions - like Applications. Masking the directory structure is a great thing for users. And for power users, like myself, it took virtually no effort to find a way to browse the actual directory hierarchy.

Let's talk about "power users." They're not developers, at least in the traditional sense. I write a lot of PHP, but I'm not compiling anything for the most part, and I don't need an IDE like Visual Studio or anything - any old "text editor" will suffice. They're people who want to understand what the OS is doing without getting into the internals. They want to know how to troubleshoot to the detail when something is wrong, but not write their own patches to the OS. They're people who are very loud about what they want from their computer, but usually can't do too much to actually make that happen.

OS X has helped me understand a lot about what I actually want from an OS, and I think that I represent a good portion of people - said "power users." I know that I want a polished UI that makes choices obvious. I know I want the advanced options generally out of sight but not buried. I want an easy way to launch applications and an easy way to kill them if they hang or eat up my memory. Jaguar does most of these things well. But most importantly - and this is the key to everything for me - I want the OS to be instantly responsive.

"Instantly responsive" might sound fine and dandy in description, but it's much harder to actually deliver. To me, "instantly responsive" means that the OS responds to me without delay, without second guessing me, and without thought. I've griped before about the mouse in Linux; a premiere Linux authority tells me that the nature of the X Window system and lack of multi-threading prevent the mouse from feeling responsive. Linux based OS's tend to feel a step behind. Windows does a greater job with the mouse but demands a lot of RAM to maintain responsiveness. And if an application crashes, even with all the advances of late, it still can swallow up the half gigabyte of RAM it's been given.

OS X's biggest problem is that it's slow. And if you take nothing else away from this review, it should be that. OS X is slow. Even with incredible hardware, as I said, it just about compares to the speed of Windows. Even Linux, installed with all the bloat - Gnome, KDE, etc. - when running on the same hardware, is about as fast. The dual processors made a lot of the complaints I've read virtually transparent, such as Window-resizing delays, but nonetheless, the whole environment feels like it's playing catch up to my will, and to me, this is killer.

Table of contents
  1. "Month with a Mac, Part I"
  2. "Month with a Mac, Part II"
  3. "Month with a Mac, Part III"
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