Review: MacOSX 10.1

I went on and wrote a review about MacOSX 10.0.4 a month ago, but it was never finished as I had to fly to France for my own wedding. I came back and MacOSX 10.1 had been released. I scrapped completely the old text, as 10.1 brings some more speed and new features to the system, and restarted writting the review from scratch.A month ago I used a friend’s iMac 500 Mhz G3 with its RAM upgraded to 256 MB. It came with MacOSX 10.0.4 pre-installed. For the current review I used another friend’s iBook (latest model) upgraded to 384 MB of RAM and with MacOSX 10.1 installed. This series of MacOS usage during the past month was the second one in my life. The first time was back in 1998 when I used to work for a graphics design Studio and all the computers in the office were some extremely slow Macs (only myself and my boss had PCs in the whole company). My opinion back then was that either the OS was pretty bad or the hardware was just too slow. Or both.
I left MacOS in its own fate, until 2 months ago where I installed the BasiliskII emulator, running MacOS 8.1 for 68k under Windows. Funny that it ran faster under emulation in my 533 Mhz Celeron than in its original machine. And then two of my housemates bought an iMac and an iBook respectively. And I discovered MacOSX.

MacOSX is a (supposedly) modern 32-bit OS, based on the 15 year old BSD4.4 and Mach kernel, with a new, object-oriented GUI on top. Sounds familiar? Yes, NeXTSTEP was exactly the same. Not surprising, as Apple has purchased NeXT in 1996 and Apple’s today’s CEO is Steve Jobs who created NeXT too as well as Apple. While MacOSX is Posix compliant, its GUI API uses Objective-C and/or Java. There are these who say that Objective-C is superior to C++ and these who say that is not as flexible and advanced as C++. Well, there is always Java too. I just hoped that the developer tools would included in one of the CDs that come with the machine instead of searching all over Apple’s web site to find a free downloadable version.

MacOSX looks good (I said “looks good”, not “feels good”). The graphics UI designers at Apple have done a good job, but at places feels “too much”. Transparency where it is not needed making text sometimes unreadable, too much of a gradient in the scrollbars etc. All in all, it looks very good though and the GUI is consistent, but not without its problems. First off, I can’t say that I like the classic Mac menu bar on the top. It prevents multitasking from doing its job as it supposed to do it and it does not necesarrily make the system easier to use, as it probably made sense back in 1984 when the first Mac was introduced. Then, I still can’t figure out how to move files from the Desktop to ~/ using the Finder (the MacOSX file manager). Believe me, the context menus do not always work. I don’t know if it is a bug that I hit or me being unable to figure out “the easiest OS to use in the globe”, but it just didn’t always work for me. The other problem I have with the GUI, while it is a fact that it is looking good and consistent, it does not offer any revolutionary new concepts.

MacOSX 10.1 Screenshot

The OS is a unix underneath, so if you are familiar with Linux or BSD, you are going to love the ability to have a powerful shell in combination with a GUI that makes sense as opposed to the inconsistent XFree and its accompanying offerings. Setting up Apache, SSH, mySQL is even easier than other traditional unices, as you can find packages that can get installed through the MacOS .bin.hqx method rather than manually using the command line. There were a number of reports recently about security holes in the OS itself, but Apple has been releasing patches frequently since March, which was the original OSX release date. The integration between the BSD unix and the GUI has been done cleverly, older MacOS users will not even notice that they run on top of a unix environment.

The OS comes with several applications, like iTunes, office software, IE5.1, QuickTime and a DVD player (which plays exceptionally fast and without glitches I should add) among others. MacOSX also comes with a copy of MacOS 9.2 which, when called, it runs as a runtime environment on the background of OSX and provides compatibility with older MacOS apps that they have not being carbonized yet (not using the new API yet that is), like Photoshop and Quark 4 for example.
There are already a large number of native applications for MacOSX found on VersionTracker today and this number is increasing every day.

The biggest problem is that the system is big and slow. Yes, the 10.1 update made the system faster, but not fast. My previous review for OSX, based on an older and slower version was pretty much a grave for OSX’s speed. Things have changed to the better, but not a whole lot. WindowsXP still feels faster in common usage (closing down IE or openning the Trash directory for example). Resizing Finder in column mode is now… possible, but still with lots of lag in the response. When comparing this performance to the BeOS, which can resize or do everything needed while the system is already under the pressure of lots of CPU usage, MacOSX makes me laugh. If this is the “next generation OS” that Apple was talking about for years, I am not very imperessed, at least speed-wise. At places the OS seems that it lacks even proper multitasking. I am dissapointed by the general response time of the OS.

Also, the price for purchasing a Mac that can run this OS a bit fast (and make sure you fill it with extra memory if you want to have some luck with it) is too high. Apple hardware was always expensive, but if Apple really wants to gain more users off the PC platform (and these people will mostly be *nix geeks who seek a better gui than XFree), the price for the hardware should be dropped to something more realistic (have you seen how much Apple charges for an extra 128 MB DIMM?)

I was ready to buy an iMac for me some months ago, but I have now reconsider that doesn’t make much sense to spend $1,300 USD for something so underpowered (600 Mhz G3 – and please don’t give me the “megahertz myth”, which is pretty valid, but not so much in Apple’s case) and for an OS that except of a slick GUI does not bring anything new in the OS and technology scene, but just a life boat for Apple as a company in the whole. Nothing like a filesystem like XFS or BFS, not a good software manager like QNX’s, or the advanced (and easy to use) networking features that WindowsXP brings.

MacOSX lacks not the killer application, but a set of killer features.

Still though, MacOSX is in my opinion, the only OS that can compete head to head with Microsoft’s OS offerings one day. But this day, is not today.

Overall: 7.5/10


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