Article by Kevin Savetz

First Published:
Date Published:
Copyright © by Kevin Savetz


It really doesn't matter whether or not you like MacOS X, because - for better or for worse - it's here to stay. Beginning in January, all new Macs that Apple sells will only boot into OS X. They won't be able to boot directly into MacOS 9 (now affectionately known as "Classic".

Five minutes after Apple makes this change, enterprising hackers devoted to OS 9 will certainly devise a work-around, but it doesn't matter - its fate is sealed. OS X is the wave of the future. Although some people will complain about having OS X forced down their throats, it really is a much better operating system than the old Arabic-numbered MacOS.

The first version of OS X was strictly for early adopters: it was slow and buggy, and very little software supported its new features. A few months later, Apple released version 10.1, a free maintenance upgrade that fixed many of those issues. With 10.1, OS X became truly usable. In many ways, it was much more powerful than Classic MacOS, but it was lacking in other ways, missing features that OS 9 users were accustomed to.

The latest incarnation of OS X - version 10.2, also known as Jaguar - is, for many, the release that puts OS X officially on the map. Apple has cleaned up many of the lingering problems of earlier versions, added a ton of new features, and generally made OS X ready for prime time. Apple says there are more than 150 new features. Here are some of the biggies:

{IMAGE: sherlock. Sherlock is a convenient tool for grabbing information from the Internet without using a web browser.}

{IMAGE: calc. Say goodbye to the boring four-function calculator of MacOS past - and say hello to Jaguar's calc.}

{IMAGE: universal. Jaguar includes special features for users who have difficulty seeing, hearing, typing, and using the mouse.}

Jaguar isn't perfect: since I upgraded from 10.1 to Jaguar, Microsoft Word took on the unseemly habit of crashing at random intervals. Users at Macintouch.com (a great Mac news site) have complained of a smattering of other problems, such as networking difficulties and problems with fonts. No operating system is prefect, and despite its advances, there's room for improvement in Jaguar.

Despite little glitches, Jaguar is rock solid. In the months I've been running various versions of OS X, my Mac has crashed only once. Zero times since upgrading to Jaguar. When an application crashes, which can happen from time to time, you can just restart it and keep on working. With MacOS 9 and earlier, a crashed application usually meant that you had to reboot the Mac.

My biggest issue with Jaguar is the price. The retail price is $129, and although street prices are as low as $100, there are no free upgrades, there is no reduced price for those of us who are moving up from earlier editions of OS X. Apple wants you to pay full price to upgrade, take it or leave it - an attitude that is hard for some of OS X's early adopters to swallow. (There's no word from Apple whether the next version, dubbed Panther and due to be released sometime in 2003, will have a similar upgrade policy.)

Should You Upgrade?

Should you upgrade your current Mac to Jaguar? If you're running an earlier version of OS X, the answer is yes. The gaggle of new features - quicker file searching, spring-loaded folders, improved mail, iChat, and so on - are worth it.

If you're still using OS 9 or earlier, the decision to upgrade isn't so cut-and-dried. If you are happy with the current state of affairs, I suggest leaving well enough alone. Upgrading the OS also means updating your applications and other time-consuming hassles. For now, at least, you have the luxury of choice. The next time you buy a new Mac, you won't.

On the other hand, if you're feeling frustrated by the limitations of Classic Mac OS (notably, it doesn't use Unix, and can't run spiffy OS X-only software like iCal and iPhoto and even programs that don't start with the letter i), I suggest upgrading. That is, if your computer has enough RAM. Officially, Jaguar will work on any iMac, iBook, PowerMac G3 or G4 with more than 128MB RAM. But I wouldn't want to use OS X on any machine with that little RAM – 256 MB is the realistic minimum for a speedy good time.


Articles by Kevin Savetz