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The Tiger Report: A Memo to Mac OS 9 Users

Dear Friend,

I know that, like all folks who have embraced the Apple Macintosh, you are an extremely smart, well-educated person with an above-average income. Or at least you aspire to one or all of these goals. Despite being surrounded by people who have urged you to join the “Dark Side,” which is our little moniker for the Windows world, you have resisted.

You have also been asked to consider Mac OS X. All right, I understand that it’s very, very different, and not just the stuff that’s happening under-the-hood. Despite its superficial resemblance to the Classic Mac OS, things have changed, sometimes drastically. You can’t customize the Apple menu without the help of a third party utility, control panels have been replaced by System Preferences, and there’s no Chooser.

Worse, you no longer have to cope with the quirks of a single Fonts folder, but several, for the single user, for all users, the network and even specific applications. For years, you coped with with PostScript and TrueType fonts, not to mention the original bitmap faces, and now you will have to deal with OpenType and something with the file extension .dfont.

Just as important, what’s this thing about file extensions? Isn’t that something that Windows users deal with? What’s going on here?

I feel your pain, but you have to understand that Mac OS 9, the last general release of the original Mac OS, was a creaky mess, almost collapsing under its own weight. By version 8.0, Apple grafted a few of the surface features of Copland, its failed project to bring the Mac into the 21st century, but it could be slow, and buggy, although I realize some of you tamed it sufficiently to work pretty reliably.

In fact, I bet some of you still depend on it to get work done at your office, and the thought of updating computers and operating systems can be daunting, despite the Mac OS X installer that ought to do its things with just a few mouse clicks.

You will also argue about the cost of the upgrade? There’s no sense using your old applications under a new operating system, where the Classic environment would entail some performance tradeoff. Worse, if you buy a MacIntel, a term some of us use for Macs with Intel processors, there is no Classic, except for a dreadfully slow third-party hack.

What to do?

First of all, I won’t argue about interface changes. Apple feels it had logical reasons to alter things, and not just for marketing. I mean, do you really miss the Chooser? Be honest now!

It’s also true that the great graphics of Mac OS X require a a reasonably powerful Mac, and most anything older than six years old isn’t supported. For the sake of argument, I won’t suggest you look into any third party solutions to “induce” Mac OS X to work on an older Mac. So you have to consider, at the very least, a memory upgrade, to 512MB or better, and maybe just a new Mac.

The costs add up. Then, if you cannot survive with Apple’s bundled applications, iLife ’06 and perhaps iWork ’06, you have to take every significant piece of productivity software and buy an upgrade. In the end, the software may be more expensive than the hardware, because Macs are a whole lot cheaper now than they were in 1999, if you start with the Mac mini, of course.

On the positive side of the ledger, you do want to consider Mac OS X Tiger’s superior reliability. Yes, some online commentators devote lots of space to tracking bugs in the operating system. It makes you feel nervous, no doubt. But bear in mind that most of these bugs are confined to a very few people, with heavily customized systems. It doesn’t make them any less real, but Apple will promptly address show-stopping bugs, and it updates its stuff regularity.

Since it is based on Unix, Mac OS X offers multitasking that’s way ahead of what Mac OS 9 could do. Try, for example, downloading a file, typing a word processing document, printing a file and playing a QuickTime movie clip. Before you know it, the Classic Mac OS stops in its tracks. In fact, just click on a menu and hold the mouse for a moment and see what happens. What’s more, if an application suddenly quits, Mac OS X rarely has to be restarted. Try that in the older Mac OS, and see how long you can work before things get awry.

In addition to being able to do more things at the same time, many Mac OS X users record their uptimes, the period that transpires between restarting, in days or weeks. Reliability isn’t perfect, and it surely could be better, but, for most of us, it’s way ahead of where the Mac used to be.

In fact, 15 minutes after I set up my first Mac over 20 years ago, it crashed. I find Tiger to be an absolute relief by any reasonable comparison.

But don’t get me wrong. I know change can be difficult. Worse, you might feel frustrated because your browsers can no longer access the latest Web content accurately, and applications are rarely being updated for your operating system.

Some day the time may be right for you, or maybe not. That depends on your situation. It’s true that some of you still use System 6 and feel perfectly satisfied. But I think the majority of the Classic holdouts among you are ready to switch, but need a little more encouragement.

Feel free to post your reasons why you are avoiding Mac OS X, and not just financial. That I understand, and no explanation is necessary.

Gene Steinberg