Reflections on 10.1: A Platform Divided

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Date: Wednesday, October 10th, 2001, 00:27
Category: Archive

10.1 is beautiful, fast and elegant. It also remains just plain incompatible with a lot of the things that are the reason we own Macs. The “public beta” that was 10.0.x is over. But the real “mainstream” upgrade is still months away. Here’s a comprehensive look at what’s missing from 10.1.

10.1 is beautiful, fast and elegant. It also remains just plain incompatible with a lot of the things that are the reason we own Macs. The “public beta” that was 10.0.x is over. But the real “mainstream” upgrade is still months away. Here’s a comprehensive look at what’s missing from 10.1.

It seems like we’ve evolved in our perspective on what Mac OS X should be with each upgrade. First, it was “it’s the interface, stupid”: shameless ease-of-use failures that made OS X look like the NeXT hybrid were finally corrected in a series of beta upgrades and finally 10.0. Then, it was “it’s performance, stupid” — a rallying cry I certainly joined; 10.0.x releases were slow as a dog even on the latest hardware. Little surprise, then, that 10.1 was code-named “Puma” — no longer dog-like, one damn fast cat.

Now, Apple’s final task is simple: “it’s compatibility, stupid.” OS X won’t be truly ready until the day comes when we NEVER see the Mac OS 9 startup screen.

The next upgrade to OS X won’t just come from Apple. It’ll come in the form of a slew of third-party upgrades. Let’s face it: most of us hoped that by this month, we’d already have essential software like Office and the Adobe suite, that at least popular hardware would work consistently. Most Apple hardware and software developers don’t even have an OS X page on their support site, let alone a shipping product. But, even more disturbing, Apple is still struggling to fix features within OS X.

Don’t get me wrong: 10.1 itself is a marvel. It has deserved every bit of praise it’s gotten in the past week. If you’re like me, you shouted in joy every time you saw an elegant interface tweak, a long-awaited feature, a squashed bug. And, as a development environment and Internet OS, OS X is without equal. It’s hard to resist booting out of 9 just to surf the Internet under X. But, as most of us expected, X still has some rough spots.

Lack of documentation. This is worth pointing out first, because Apple’s failure to properly document its progress on X is dramatically hindering migration. Users are left wondering what is even SUPPOSED to work, and many small- and medium-sized developers are left in the dark. Everyone in the Mac community recognizes Apple’s challenges and that X is a work in progress. We could cope better if Apple would give us information about what’s done and what isn’t, or, for that matter, more basic documentation on how to use the new OS.

Incomplete DVD support. Apple finally gives us DVD playback — even hypes the feature — and it doesn’t support any form of video out? Like the ongoing difficulties getting iTunes and Disc Burner to work, Apple’s difficulties with its own DVD software don’t bode well for third party developers trying to make things work under X.

Ongoing hardware incompatibility. A number of hardware features that used to work have now broken. This is a typical situation in any OS upgrade, but, again, it’s disturbing that in the majority of cases, Apple hasn’t given us documentation of the problems. PC Card USB adapters like the popular MacAlly card, for instance, which worked under 10.0.4, break under 10.1. The much-hyped PrintCenter actually appears to be less compatible than under 10.0; as we reported earlier this week, Epson has a driver release schedule but even many of their printers that functioned under 10.0.4 now won’t work under 10.1. Third-party hardware drivers are still, for the most part, nowhere to be seen. The good news is, OS X supports a lot of hardware without drivers. But all it takes is one everyday piece of hardware, and there you are: no documentation, no word on when to expect support, staring at the OS 9 startup screen again.

No Palm support. Among all the unsupported hardware, the lack of integrated PDA support remains one of the most confusing. Apple touts its computers as a digital hub. Yet more people use Palms on the Mac than MP3 players, DV camcorders, and digital cameras combined. We’ve heard tenuous announcements of maybe, at best, having OS 9-level capabilities by year end. Instead, Apple should be working with Palm to reach a level of integration that’s not available on any other platform; OS 9 doesn’t even equal the level of support on Windows. Those of us with a digital lifestyle deserve better.

Next-generation audio support is here — if you can find it. I’ve been greatly encouraged that Apple has been talking about OS X’s audio capabilities as key to the new OS. Cupertino had been mostly silent about this key market segment for years, and lately, they’re finally seeing music making as a selling point again. That’s good news, because the Mac is at the heart of most of the music you hear, from classical to pop. I’ll go into the details of OS X’s evolving Core Audio Services later this week, but we can expect major advantages over other OS’s: better performance and compatibility. While Apple brags that Core Audio is here in 10.1, good luck trying to use it. There are still no applications due for months that will even be able to take advantage of its multi-channel capabilities; the earliest expected application, Emagic’s Logic, has been delayed until January. Worse yet, Apple has shipped another OS with no user interface for configuring that high-end audio engine globally, not so much as a simple input selection settings panel. A number of developers have told me they don’t expect Apple to ever build a user interface for audio or MIDI settings. I believe that would be a dramatic step backward, requiring users to configure their diverse arsenal of applications individually via different interfaces.

Still not enough apps. Every time we hear from Apple, they’ve come up with some new number of applications that are supposed to run on OS X. But the more pertinent list for Mac users, sadly, is what won’t run: applications from Photoshop to Pro Tools. There are some fantastic applications on X, but many of them are OS X-only. Even Office v.10 when it ships will be OS X. That will, unfortunately, only make the lack of other apps more frustrating: you’ll have to boot into OS 9 to use OS 9-only applications, then BACK into X for OS X-only applications. Like the headline, A Platform Divided Cannot Stand. As for the “seamless transition” we’ve been promised for years? Ironically, the best motivation for developers to move to OS X-native apps may be the fact that Classic works so poorly: Windows runs better in Connectix’s VirtualPC than OS 9 runs in OS X.

Bungled upgrade distribution.At a time when Apple was trying to earn much-needed good karma, they completely screwed up distribution of free 10.1 upgrade CDs. Since the days of downloading small System 7.5 patches over the Internet are over, Apple needs to figure out a better way to get upgrades in our hands without earning the ire of its user base.

I may get some hate mail for being so critical of Apple on OS X. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely adore X. I could go on about the things that are terrific about it. I’m using it as I write this. But strangely, the better X gets, the more the divide deepens between OS 9 and OS X. I notice more of the things OS X does well that I’ll have to give up when I’m forced to boot several times daily back into 9 — and more of the things OS 9 does transparently that OS X can’t do at all.

Dual booting is a great feature. But I’m tired of doing it daily. Apple and its third parties have split compatibility across two operating systems. The result is a much-weakened platform: you now can only get half of the benefit of being on a Mac at a time. I’m convinced things are about to get better: the speed and beauty of 10.1 will be a big shot in the arm for those developing for the new OS. Now we just need to go the rest of the way. There can be only one Apple operating system.

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