Mac OS X public beta

Mac OS X, now only months away from its final release, proudly wears its Unix on its sleeve. This means greater security, with administrator passwords, and no single-user mode. It means stability, with pre-emptive multi-tasking and protected memory. It means better, faster networking, and native TCP/IP. It means that, for the first time, a command line is available (hurrah!).

However, it does not mean that OS X is no longer easy to use. Unix geeks now have access to the full gamut of industrial-strength utilities and services they expect, while, for the rest of us, there's still a highly intuitive interface. If you don't want to, you need never see command line.

The interface is not at all like the traditional Mac OS. There is, for instance, no Apple menu. That brilliantly useful tool proved just a tad too easy to customise, and ultimately led to poor performance and instability on many Macs.

Instead, Apple provides the Dock, a rectangular bar at the bottom of the screen. Any currently running applications appear in the Dock, as well as any Favourite applications you may wish to place there. It's also where you'll find active documents and (strangely) the Trash can.

As you might expect, the Dock can become unwieldy pretty quickly, so it is easy to make it smaller, or even hide it until needed. As the mouse rolls over an item in the Dock, the item magnifies instantly. (A very aesthetically pleasing effect, which had me idly rolling the mouse back and forth just to see things zoom out. I guess the novelty will eventually wear off.)The Dock is more functional than the Application menu it replaces, and it's easier to customise than the Start menu in Windows 9x. I don't much care for having the Trash can located on the Dock, though. It appears to be impossible to move an item (such as a document) from the Dock directly to the Trash, which means you have to go digging about using the Finder just to delete things.

Speaking of the Finder, this has also been transformed. As well as the traditional Icon and List views, there is also a Column view, enabling you to see several directory layers at once. This is a holdover from NeXTStep, the OS Apple acquired to build OS X around, and I have to say I like it. The Finder also has a set of Sherlock-style buttons at the top, and a browser-style "back" button, to aid in navigation around the computer. Disk drives are not, by default, visible on the desktop, and you have to click on the "Computer" button in the Finder window to see them.

Older applications, not designed to run under OS X, run in the "Classic" environment. This is a full implementation of Mac OS 9 (you need to have Mac OS 9 installed on your machine if you want to run the Classic environment) running within OS X. Theoretically, starting up an older application launches "Classic", and you work just as if you were running Mac OS 9. In practice, this is rather unstable, and some applications that run well under OS 9 itself seem to be downright clumsy under "Classic". Until this improves, you would be advised to install OS X on a separate drive or partition, and keep your OS 9 system untouched, just to be on the safe side.

This isn't a major complaint, of course. This is, after all, beta software, and a bit of instability is to be expected. Proper Mac OS X applications (with the notable exception of AppleWorks 6, which I couldn't get to run for more than a few seconds) run pretty solidly, and in the event of a crash, the rest of the system hums along as if almost nothing happened. Several Mac OS X native apps are included in the installation, including QuickTime and Microsoft Internet Explorer. More should be available by the time the final release ships.

Mac OS X public beta

Price: $55

Supplier: Apple Computer

Phone: 13 3622

URL: www.apple.com.au

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