For a start, it's based on Unix. For another thing, its user interface owes as much to the NeXT operating system Apple acquired when it bought Steve Jobs as it does to anything the Mac did before. In short, it's not really the Mac any more.
Apple, in its wisdom, has set Mac OS X to default to being as different to Mac OS 9 as it could possibly have been. Perhaps this was to ensure that reviewers and early adopters got an overwhelming sense of "newness". Or perhaps it was the OS equivalent of throwing the kids in at the deep end and hoping they'll swim. Either way, it's both possible and easy to fiddle a few settings in OS X to make it behave - if not look - more like OS 9. The equivalent, if you will, of holding on to the side of the pool while you get used to the temperature.
FIRST, FIX THE LOGIN
Mac OS 9 introduced Multiple Users, a handy feature for those people who share their Mac with others. It was also introduced to get people used to the idea of logging in to their computers, since Unix (and therefore Mac OS X) is inherently multi-"user and requires logging in.
Hardly anybody adopted the Multiple User approach in Mac OS 9, so Apple has wisely made it possible to bypass this feature in Mac OS X. Open System preferences and select Login preferences. Click on the Login Window tab, and you'll be presented with a number of options related to logging in. For the purposes of this column, we don't want to log in ever, so select Automatically log in. The user name and password should be the one you defined as the "administrator" when you installed OS X, so whoever starts up the computer next will have a good deal of power.
NEXT, THE DISKS
By default, Mac OS X doesn't show removable disks (such as CDs) on the Desktop, the way the Mac always used to. This is because Apple wants to reduce clutter on the Desktop and streamline navigation by making everyone find their way to disks using the new spiffy Finder. If you liked your old cluttered life (I know I did), simply go to the Finder, and from the Finder menu, select Preferences... . A window appears in which you can change all manner of settings, including putting your old Mac OS 9 desktop picture back where it belongs. For now, just put a tick beside "Show disks on the Desktop" and close the preferences pane.
NOW THE DOCK
The Dock is one of the best bits of Mac OS X, but also one of the hardest to get used to. For a start, it's so darn BIG by default. And it's always in front of any application you're running - so if a window goes below the Dock, it's hidden. This is especially bad with Classic apps. Go back out to the Finder, and from the Apple menu, select Dock and, from the submenu, Preferences... . The Dock preference pane opens. Note that you can get to the same pane through System Preferences, but its importance is underlined by the fact you can get directly to it from the Apple menu.
In the Dock preferences, place a check next to "Automatically hide and show the Dock". This makes the Dock disappear when you don't need it, and reappear when the cursor ventures to the bottom of the screen. Note that it only reappears this way when running a Mac OS X app - since Mac OS 9 doesn't recognise the Dock, if you're running a Classic app you'll have to click on the Desktop to make the Dock reappear.
Since the Dock replaces the Application menu, it also reappears when you press the
With these few steps, you should have a much more comfortable time getting acquainted with Mac OS X. In future issues, we'll start to explore more of the Unix-like aspects of the new OS so you can fully appreciate and utilise its power - and move away from the side of the pool.