Random Reflections on OS X

Originally published 11 December 2000 as a Tech Reflections article for Low End Mac.

The Clock is nice, especially in Analog mode, but I miss the clock in the menu bar. The Dock just doesn't quite cut it for a clock location. Apple probably won't fix it, but a third-party developer already has, albeit for $12.

TextEdit finally edits more than 32K of text at one time, and it's in RTF format. This is probably a good thing long-term though it may cause a few migration headaches when people get documentation created on OS X on a pre-OS X system. Thoughtful feature: has a "Make Plain Text" command (cmd-shift-R) for situations just like this.

About 99 percent of the Help is Internet-based. This will have to change in the shipping version, or Apple better be ready for a lot of support calls (or be ready to give free Internet access).

The Setup Assistant thoughtfully gives you the option of telling it you're not connected to the Internet. Probably unlikely for most people who will be using OS X, but nice all the same, especially if you're installing in a non-network environment for later use on a network.

The option to log in automatically, something I think is probably going to be very widely used (and should probably ship on by default), is, logically, located in the Login panel of the System Preferences. Whether this "logical" passes the Mother Test or Grandmother Test remains to be seen, but right now I'd say it passes the Mother Test and not the Grandmother Test.

Moving the Application menu to where the Apple menu used to be isn't entirely a bad thing, as it lends consistency to the interface. However, coming from a background of using the Apple menu heavily for aliases and whatnot, it's still taking some getting used to.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, the Preferences are now almost universally in the Application menu, where they probably should have been all along. This makes more sense but doesn't feel right yet. This one's there for good, folks. It will be better in the long run.

Dragging full windows around on the screen saps performance like crazy. The option of dragging outlines should be given somewhere for those of us without at least a Rage 128 and 16 MB SGRAM (i.e., anything pre-Blue G3). Probably will be given by the time of the final release, at least by a third party. Scrolling speed is a bit slower as well. I blame this on Quartz's high graphics horsepower desires.

Transparency effects, drop shadows, fading menus, etc. are a nice touch but will also sap performance on older G3 systems. I might go so far as to say that a Rage 128 chip is the minimum for good desktop performance. (We PowerBook users don't have a whole lot of choice.) This, unfortunately, probably won't change much with the final release.

Systemwide spell checking is defaulted to off (and defaults back to off after a restart as well) in TextEdit but ships on in Fire (that wonderful AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo! Messenger client from epicware). Seems a bit silly to me. Too obscure to be fixed by the time it ships, but it sure would be nice not to have to turn it on every time.

Still on the spell checker: it is an extremely useful feature and very powerful — far better than many spell checkers that ship with word processors. One of my favourite features of OS X so far. Has a few really stupid quirks: "Internet," "login," "logout," and "desktop" are all "misspelled" by default. Somehow this just seems so ... 1990.

Finally an OS from Apple that ships with a screen saver — about five years after screen savers became obsolete. With today's monitors, they're really quite unnecessary save as eye candy, and this one sure isn't eye candy. Maybe if that silver apple moved. I'm guessing this will get better by ship time.

Where'd my double scrolling arrows from OS 9 run off to? I thought that was one of the more useful features introduced with the Application Switcher. If enough people notice, this will probably change by the shipping release too. For that matter, where are popup folders? I think maybe I was one of the 40 or so people who actually used them, but I liked them and, darn it, I want 'em back.

Mildly annoying that I can't resize the System Preferences window, and that the Favorites are the only ones accessible with a single click. I would prefer the old Control Panel style of System 6 to this. Only six Favorites can be specified, too. This should — but probably won't — change with the final release.

Speaking of the Application Switcher ... cmd-tab is a lot better now. It cycles through open apps in the Dock, highlighting the one you're going to select if you release the tab key. And it cycles in load order, not in the (really stupid) default alphabetical order of previous Mac OS versions.

Finally, a Mac OS that doesn't stop everything when I click the mouse or open a menu. 'Nuff said.

The Toolbar mysteriously disappeared from my Finder windows across a logout and login. I have no clue as to why. Fortunately, a menu item thoughtfully placed in the View menu took care of that little problem. (Help was useless — that particular help file is on the Internet.)

That Apple in the middle of the menu bar is starting to bug me. It seems like an advertisement or something. When I pay my $99 (or whatever) for the final version, I don't want to pay for the privilege of an Apple ad in my menu bar. Either leave it alone or make it do something. Very unlikely to change by shipping time, unfortunately.

I'll be damned if I can figure out how to make a non-removable disk appear on the desktop without resorting to third-party utilities or doing digging in the command line that I don't have the first clue how to tackle. If someone who's been using Macs for 12 years can't figure it out inside half an hour, this one fails both the Mother Test and Grandmother Test quite miserably. Really. It's a command line, for Pete's sake. I don't mind having the power of the command line, but I don't want to be forced into it. If I wanted to have to use a command line I'd just put LinuxPPC on here and install the SheepShaver Mac OS emulator.

Nice feature: TextEdit puts a dot inside the close "box" (I guess I can't really call it a box any more since it's now a red gumdrop-like circular thing) if you have made unsaved changes to a document. The document icon next to the title in the title bar also greys out until changes are saved. These improvements, along with the spell checking and a few other niceties, make TextEdit a bona fide low-end replacement for a word processor. I can't wait to see what Apple will do with AppleWorks now that TextEdit is nearly as good as the WP portion of their flagship Works package.

The Finder windows are simply titled "Finder" but show up in the Window menu as their titles according to the popup menu. This seems really inconsistent to me. I doubt it will change, but it's one of those HI quirks that could get really confusing and/or annoying, because in Finder windows (and Finder windows only), the title bar isn't really the title bar.

OS X feels a lot snappier overall (with the exception of scrolling speed) than any previous Mac OS except for maybe System 6 (or System 7.1 on a IIfx). This is undoubtedly a result of the much more efficient multitasking from the BSD Unix base.

Kudos to Microsoft for getting an OS X-native version of IE 5.5 out. It's every bit as nice as the 5.0 version I use under the Classic Mac OS, at least in preliminary usage. Time will tell, but I don't expect this to be any great problem, since M$ can just throw more resources at it if Netscape ever threatens them (which I find highly unlikely).

The Finder doesn't automatically add an ellipsis (...) to the end of a file name if the column is too narrow for the full name to fit. It also doesn't automatically reformat the date in the Date Modified column to fit the column. Yet another feature I miss from OS 9 and earlier. This will hopefully change by the final release.

The Zoom box doesn't resize the window to fit its contents any more like it used to. I really liked this feature and will be very sad to see it go. Hopefully either Apple will fix it or someone will figure out a patch to fix it.

That stupid Finder list view number order bug that's been around since the Mac OS was first introduced is finally fixed. Too bad it took 16 years, but at least now if you have a bunch of numbered files, 16.jpg doesn't come before 2.jpg.

When you hold down the shift key to select multiple items in the Finder, you now select everything between the first item selected and the item next clicked. Different, but not fatally so, and will simply take some getting used to. This is something I can live with, because shift-click worked inconsistently before. Some cases required a command-click and some required a shift-click. Shift-click works the same in all cases now.

You can't rename a folder (or file) in the Finder's List view. You have to hit cmd-I to "Inspect" it (a really silly new name for Get Info) and change its name there. If I'm missing something, I sure can't figure out what it is. Both Icon and NeXT-style views allow you to rename the item normally. If Apple doesn't fix this by release time, I'll be very surprised.

Boot time, from power-up to the appearance of the desktop, is substantially similar to Mac OS 9 with an average extension set, maybe a few seconds longer.

You can't sleep a PowerBook directly with the power key; if you press the power key and then S, it will shut down instead. I found this out the hard way but fortunately wasn't doing anything vitally important.

Waking from Sleep is literally a one-second proposition. I love it!

The requirement of a password to change network settings, etc. will be great for school or other multi-user environments but will get annoying at home. There's probably a way to turn it off, but I haven't found it yet. Logging in as root removes this problem but opens up other possible security threats, so I'm inclined to just keep logging in as myself and clicking the lock to make changes.

Not being able to select a desktop pattern (as opposed to a picture) is rather annoying. Apple will probably fix this by the final release as desktop pictures slow down Photoshop's screen redraws something awful in Mac OS 9. Not only can you not select a pattern in OS X, but you're stuck with that stupid default picture if you don't select a different one. I'm almost tempted to reinstall the ones from the Mac OS 8.x installation just to get that weird Aqua abomination off my screen. I like blue, but not this much.

Changes to the Network settings require a restart. Open Transport under the Classic Mac OS doesn't. This is annoying. Hopefully Apple will fix it by shipping time.

The Restart menu command is gone, sort of. Hold down Option and click Special and Shut Down changes to Restart, but I think this is a mistake. Apple shouldn't make restarting a requirement (for example, after changing network settings) and then not give you any apparent way to do it.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson