Almost a year after our much discussed Mac OS X 10.1 review, it is time to write down our impressions from the new version of OSX, Jaguar 10.2. Is Jaguar worth the full $129 USD? Dive in for more. Update: Slashdot seems to agree with our review, at least on the backwards compatibility issue. I have had Mac OS X 10.1.5 installed on this G4 Cube 450 MHz (which is still modern Apple hardware) with 448 MB of SDRAM since last May. I used Mac OS X on and off for the last few months, but version 10.1.x was really not something that could captivate my interest and make me use it more frequently, mostly because of its low UI speed, and secondly because of the way some of its UI elements work.
The installation of 10.2 went very smooth, it was truly a no brainer installation. You put the CD in, you boot with it, you choose the partition you want, and that’s pretty much all there is into it. The installation took about 40 minutes (a 20 GB IDE drive used). The new version of OSX kept all preferences and settings as they were before and did not overwrite any modified by me behaviors of the OS, which is a good thing.
First thing I tried was to check out its UI responsiveness. I found that OSX 10.2 is definitely faster than its predecessor, at least it does feel faster. Scrolling and resizing is twice faster than it used to be. But that does not make OSX’s UI “fast”. It is still slow and unresponsive. But better than before. An anonymous donor sent me free of charge a GeForce2MX, a special model made for the G4 Cubes (thanks!), so since a week ago I am now able to utilize Quartz Extreme. Indeed, QE makes the UI more bearable, but still it is just not as responsive as Windows XP on the similarly powerfull machine. I even use OSX at 16-bit color, because 32-bit is even slower…
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that OSX is fast doing a lot of things, but when it comes to resizing, scrolling and launch it just doesn’t feel right. In fact, I noticed that in some applications you will find that scrolling with the mouse wheel is very smooth, while trying to scroll the same document with the scroll bar is jerky (Chimera – Cocoa/Carbon mix). On other applications, the opposite would occur (Opera – Carbon). This is really strange behavior, which suggests possibly either bad algorithms or overall bad design.
A lot of multithreading code was added to this version of OSX, and it really shows. Finder is snappier, the menu bar does not stall as much when loading a big web page etc. Especially because Apple now sells only SMP PowerMacs, multithreading was a must in order to scale well on these machines.
Among the new features you will find on Jaguar are a newly redesigned Sherlock 3 (which now openly resembles more of what Watson does these days), there is a great network integration with Windows machines, easier file sharing, redesigned Address Book and a new AIM application, iChat (which I found it to get on my way when trying to chat, looks good but…). The Mail program now comes with an advanced spam-killer feature, Quartz Extreme allows you to have “real” transparency. Another kinda neat idea is Rendezvous which allows you to automatically connect and exchange information with other Macs that happen to be on the same network. However, developers would have to specifically support this in order new applications to be able to connect via Rendezvous to another Mac. Yet another nice addition is now the ability to run a software-based Airport station.
The BSD layer and developer tools of OSX have also been updated. Mac OS X now utilizes some of the FreeBSD 4.4 code, includes a Bash shell, while GCC 3.1, which generates better and faster code, is shipped with the developer tools. On the down side of things, a lot of code is now suddenly broken, even if it was not C++. For example, my (pure C) game does not link anymore (it spits a bunch of unresolved symbols), even if the libraries that it tries to link against, are also C and supposedly not affected by the non-compatible C++ ABI of GCC 3.1.
And talking about backwards compatibility, I found this to be the most important problem that OSX 10.2 Jaguar has. A whole bunch of applications do not run, and others exhibit either behavior problems or they simply crash after a while. For example, none of my 10.1.x “tray” resident apps were to load, none of the third party plugins that used to load on the Preference panel load either, the DAVE Windows sharing does not work anymore, ThinkOffice has bad redraw problems (especially on its spreadsheet), Pepper dies on launch (you have to kill the prefs file), Otto, the 3D game, does not respond to keyboard commands anymore with the Rage 128 PRO (while it does after I switched to the GeForce2MX), SDL games on windowed mode are unbearably slow, (while they behave absolutely fine on full screen), and a lot of other things like that. I found IE to also exhibit some weird behavior with its address bar, Fetch dies when disconnecting from an FTP site etc. These are all behaviors that did not occur before, while now they are plenty to discover. The most weird behaviors were possibly the fact that my clock was mysteriously reseted to 1969. For two reboots last week it would take up to 4 minutes to boot the Cube up, while also magically, now the Cube boots just fine again. After 10.2 was installed it also put my monitor to 75 Hz, while the previous version had correctly picked up my PnP monitor to 85 Hz at the 1280×1024 resolution. The 85 Hz was not even showing in the compatible refresh rates list, I had to tell it to show all refresh rates available and then pick it up manually… As of magic, this problem also gone away after 4-5 reboots, some days later…
One of the nice touches of Jaguar is the fact that you can literally now Zoom In and Out to your desktop, which is important as an accessibility feature. Too bad Apple uses bitmaps when you zoom in though, instead of using their PDF vector engine. With the bitmap zooming everything is blurry and not as precise. I wonder why (except for the reason that bitmap zooming is easier to program) they do not use PDF for this feature, as this is truly one of the reasons why someone would go with the PDF/Quartz engine anyway.
Something that I would like to see as a kind of evolution from Apple, is their packaging system. While it is very easy to unpack applications for Mac, the problem is that there are so many kinds: .bin, .hqx, .sit, .dmg, .tar.gz, .pkg and some others that I can’t remember now. Besides the fact that they are too many, the main problem is order. I like having everything in order. These packages most of the time will just unpack things on my desktop, and only .pkg would default the installation to the /Applications folder. But even then, my /Applications folder is a complete mess because of this. That folder is full of other folders of applications or binary files, literally thrown in there. I wish that Apple could standardize an installer and categorize applications in subfolders, so each time you install something, it would go in to a sensible place/subfolder.
I was truly expecting Apple to include a virtual desktop application (which is something important to Unix/geek users), but to no avail. Thankfully, CodeTek have created this great application called VirtualDesktop, it has many features and it works very well with 10.2.
Overall, Apple is doing an important step forward with this release. OS X is definitely a sexy operating system, with a nice looking (but still slow) UI. The Jaguar version brings some much requested additions (spring loaded menus anyone?), but it still lacks features that every geek would love. For example I want to be able to open a terminal on the current directory when I am deep in a Finder directory… Also, a browser that works better and faster it would be highly appreciable (I tried all, I only liked Mozilla a bit – Chimera is unusably slow). And of course, more UI (==scrolling, resizing, launching, responsiveness) speeeeeed…
This is an important release, but it does not worth the whole $129 USD fee for users who have purchased 10.1. An upgrade option should have been offered by Apple for these users. I still think that this operating system is the only one that can seriously hurt Microsoft Windows on the desktop one day (Linux has no chance because of its very nature and because of the way it is evolving). However, that won’t happen if Apple continues to sell so expensive and slower Macs, which makes almost impossible a logical person who runs a PC at 2.5 GHz with WindowsXP to downgrade to dual 1 GHz (or even worse, to an eMac/iMac). We all know that the MHz Myth does not apply anymore for Apple’s case. PCs are much faster today. And Apple will have to do something about it.
Better multithreading, better dev tools, faster Finder, Quartz Extreme, a bit more speed overall. Airport software station, better Sherlock, better USB printing.
Still sluggish UI, no ability to see all open windows in the Dock, Finder is downright weird. Backwards compatibility an issue. Kind of buggy still. No modern filesystem or MIME type-based system.
Hardware Support: 8/10
Ease of use: 9/10
Credibility: 9/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 6.5/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)
Overall: 8.41 / 10