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Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Second Edition by David Pogue

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Without a doubt, Mac OS X is a stunning technical achievement. In fact, it may be the most advanced personal-computer operating system on earth. But beware its name.

The X is meant to be a Roman numeral, pronounced “ten.” Unfortunately, many people see “Mac OS X” and say “Mac O.S. ex.” That’s a sure way to get funny looks in public.

Then there’s the “Mac OS” part—what a misnomer! Mac OS X is not, in fact, the Mac OS. Under the hood, it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the traditional Mac operating system. Apple designed Mac OS X to look something like the old Mac system software, and certain features have been written to work like they used to. But all of that is just an elaborate fake-out. Mac OS X is utterly new, written from scratch. It’s not so much Mac OS X, in other words, as Steve Jobs 1.0.

If you’ve never used a computer before, none of this matters. You have nothing to unlearn. You’ll find an extremely simple, beautifully designed desktop waiting for you.

But if you’re one of the millions of people who have grown accustomed to Windows or the traditional Mac OS, Mac OS X may come as a bit of a shock. Hundreds of features you thought you knew have been removed, replaced, or relocated. (If you ever find yourself groping for an old, favorite feature, see Appendix C and Appendix D, the “Where’d it go?” dictionaries for former Mac OS 9 and Windows people.)

Why did Apple throw out the operating system that made it famous to begin with? Through the years, Apple kept on piling new features onto a software foundation originally poured in 1984, doing its best to perform nips and tucks to the ancient software to make it resemble something modern. But underneath, the original foundation was beginning to creak, and programmers complained of the “spaghetti code” that the Mac OS had become.

Apple felt that there wasn’t much point in undertaking a dramatic system-software overhaul if they couldn’t nail every key feature of modern computer technology in the process, especially crash-proofness. Starting from scratch—and jettisoning the system software we’d come to know over the years—was the only way to do it.

The result is an operating system that provides a liberating sense of freedom and stability—but one that, for existing computer fans, requires a good deal of learning (and forgetting).

Most people eventually conclude that the trade-off is well worth making. But in fact, you have little choice. Apple is switching to Mac OS X, and if you expect to remain a Mac user, sooner or later, you will, too.

What Mac OS X 10.2 Gives You

The main thing you gain by moving to Mac OS X is stability. You and your Mac may go for years without ever witnessing a system crash. Oh, it’s technically possible for Mac OS X to crash—but few have actually witnessed such an event. Rumors of such crashes circulate on the Internet like Bigfoot sightings. (If it happens to you, turn promptly to Appendix B.)

Underneath the gorgeous, shimmering, translucent desktop of Mac OS X is Unix, the industrial-strength, rock-solid OS that drives many a Web site and university. It’s not new by any means; in fact, it’s decades old, and has been polished by generations of programmers. That’s precisely why Steve Jobs and his team chose it as the basis for the NeXT operating system (which Jobs worked on during his twelve years away from Apple), which Apple bought in 1997 to turn into Mac OS X.

But crash resistance isn’t only the big-ticket item. The list below identifies the highlights, both of Mac OS X itself and of the 10.2 (Jaguar) version. (Apple says it added 150 new features to Mac OS X in Jaguar. The truth is, Apple undercounted.)

  • New desktop features. In addition to the familiar list and icon views, Mac OS X offers something called column view, which lets you burrow deeply into nested folders without leaving a trail of open windows.

    At your option, every desktop window can also display a button-studded toolbar, exactly as in a Web browser. You can install and remove buttons there (frequently used files or programs, for example) just by dragging.

    The Finder (the Mac’s desktop world) even offers an Undo command that really works. It can restore to its original folder an icon that you just dragged, for example.

    10.2 news: In version 10.2, the Finder really matured, turning from a squeaky-voiced teenager to a star college athlete. For starters, Apple gave the Finder the one additional feature it sorely needed: speed. It’s really fast, especially when starting up, opening windows, and launching programs, including the Classic simulator (more on that in a moment).

    There are lots of other touches, too. The toolbar now has a Forward button, not just Back. When you replace a file with another one of the same name, you’re now told whether it’s older or newer than the one you’re moving, just as in older Mac OS versions and Windows. “Spring-loaded” folders are back. A new icon-view option puts file names to the right of their icons, conserving space. A new, optional second line under an icon’s name tells you how many items are in a folder, what the dimensions are of a graphic, and so on. The old Get Info command is back, too, with a few sweet new tricks.

    If you work with the very young or technophobic, you’ll appreciate 10.2’s ability to hide certain programs and options from certain people. It can even pare itself down to a completely blank desktop (called Simple Finder) with almost no menus at all.

    Finally, there’s a new Search bar in every Finder toolbar for searching the window you’re in, plus a speedy new system-wide Find command. No longer must you haul the massive, slow Sherlock program to the screen just to search your disk for a file or two.

  • The Dock. At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find a row of beautiful, photorealistic icons. This is the Dock, the single most controversial and important new feature in Mac OS X. All at once, it’s a launcher, a status display, and an organizational tool. Chapter 3 covers the Dock in astounding detail.

    10.2 news: The Dock’s background is now solid rather than striped. But don’t think that Apple enhanced the dock with nothing more impressive than a new background—oh, no! It also added (in the Sound panel of System Preferences) the option to play a tiny whoosh sound when you drag something off the Dock.

  • Advanced graphics. What the programmers get excited about is the set of advanced graphics technologies called things like Quartz (for two-dimensional graphics) and OpenGL (for three-dimensional graphics). For the rest of us, these technologies translate into a beautiful, translucent look for the desktop (a design scheme Apple calls Aqua); smooth looking (antialiased) lettering everywhere on the screen; and the ability to turn any document on the screen into an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file (Section 13.5).

    10.2 news: Mac OS X 10.2 takes the good looks to a new extreme, with subtler colors, more opaque menus, a new “wait” cursor (a spinning beachball, spinning CD, or spinning lollipop, depending on whom you ask), and self-changing desktop pictures (at intervals you specify). A new button makes it even easier to save a document as a PDF file, and 10.2 comes with even more free fonts.

    10.2 also introduces Quartz Extreme, a technology that offloads graphics calculations to your Mac’s video card to make them even faster, as well as add visual effects like crossfades and a drop shadow under the cursor. To benefit from Quartz Extreme, your Mac’s video card must be on The List (GeForce2 MX, GeForce3, GeForce4 MX, GeForce4 Ti, or any “AGP-based ATI Radeon” card). Unfortunately, this list excludes the white iBooks sold in 2001 and 2002, along with older PowerBooks.

  • Advanced networking. When it comes to hooking up your Mac to other computers, including those on the Internet, few operating systems can touch Mac OS X. It offers advanced features like multihoming, which, for example, lets your laptop switch automatically and invisibly from its cable modem settings to its dial-up modem settings when you take it on the road.

    10.2 news: Macs and Windows PCs can now “see” each other on a network automatically, so that you can open, copy, and work on files on each other’s machines as though the age-old religious war between Macs and PCs had never even existed. The new OS also introduces something called Rendezvous, a fledgling technology that, someday, will let programs and hardware add-ons “see” and recognize each other on a network without any setup at all.

  • Lots of accessory programs. Mac OS X comes with a broad array of interesting software. Some, like Mail, you may wind up using every day; others, like the 3-D, voice-activated Chess program, are designed primarily to let you and Apple show off Mac OS X to flabbergasted onlookers.

    10.2 news: In Jaguar, the list of freebies is even longer. Now there’s iChat, an AOL-compatible instant-messaging program; iCal, a calendar program that syncs with Palm organizers; and Sherlock 3, which finds useful information on the Web (flight info, movies, stocks, phone numbers, and so on) and even organizes it for you. The existing programs have been beefed up, too—now there’s a junk-mail zapper in Mail, page-navigation controls in Preview, a scientific mode (and editable paper-tape option) in the Calculator, a system-wide Address Book, and so on.

  • Simpler everything. Most applications in Mac OS X show up as a single icon. Behind the scenes, they may have dozens of individual software crumbs, just like the programs of Mac OS 9 or Windows—but Mac OS X treats that single icon as though it’s a folder. All the support files are hidden away inside, where you don’t have to look at them. In other words, to remove a program from your Mac, you just drag the application’s single icon to the Trash, without having to worry that you’re leaving scraps behind.

  • Voice control, keyboard control. You can operate every menu in every program entirely from the keyboard or—new in 10.2—even by voice. These are terrific timesavers for efficiency freaks.

    10.2 news: Speaking of speaking: Several of 10.2’s many new features for the disabled are useful for almost anybody—including the system’s ability to read aloud any text in any program. Web pages, email, your novel, you name it. In fact, you can even turn the Mac’s spoken performance into an MP3 file, ready to transfer to your iPod music player to enjoy on the road.

  • Tighter Internet integration. Mac OS X makes your Mac more a part of the Internet than it ever has been before. Not only can you treat an iDisk (Section 18.9.3) as though it’s an external hard drive, available all the time, but Mac OS X includes the famous and popular Apache Web server. That’s Unix software that lets your Mac be a Web site, dishing out Web pages to all comers (Section 21.1.1).

    10.2 news: 10.2 takes Internet features to a new level. For corporate types, Mac OS X now offers virtual private networking, so you can dial into the corporate office securely over the Internet. For economical types, the new Internet Sharing feature lets you share a single Internet connection (like one cable modem or DSL box) with a whole network of Macs. And for safety types, the new Mac OS X firewall keeps your Mac secure from the invasive efforts of Internet no-goodniks.

  • A command-line interface. In general, Apple has completely hidden from you every trace of the Unix operating system that lurks beneath Mac OS X’s beautiful skin. For the benefit of programmers and other technically oriented fans, however, Apple left uncovered a couple of tiny passageways into that far more complex realm.

    Chapter 15 and Chapter 16 cover Mac OS X’s Unix underpinnings in more depth. For now, it’s enough to note that, if you like, you can capitalize on the command-line interface of Mac OS X. That simply means that you can type out cryptic commands, which the Mac executes instantly and efficiently, in an all-text window.

  • If you’re splurting your orange juice, outraged at the irony, well, you wouldn’t be the first. Apple is, of course, the company who put itself on the map by establishing the superiority of the graphic interface—mouse, icons, menus, and windows. The requirement to type out memorized commands, Apple led us to believe, should die a quick and ugly death. Yet here it is again, in what’s supposed to be the world’s most modern and advanced operating system.

    Truth is, there’s not much harm in it. The command line is completely hidden until you ask for it. It’s very useful for programmers, network administrators, and other people for whom the computer is not just an adventure—it’s a job.

  • Better hardware integration. In Mac OS X 10.2, Apple cleaned up its act regarding external gadgetry. USB printer sharing is back, so that several Macs on a network can use the same injket printer. Just in case your printer doesn’t have a Mac OS X-compatible driver yet, Apple provided CUPS (Common Unix Printer System), a secret configuration page that makes many older printers work with Mac OS X. The Mac can now speak Bluetooth—if equipped with Apple’s $50 Bluetooth adapter and some other Bluetooth gadget to speak to, like a Bluetooth-equipped Palm or a Bluetooth cellphone. And the new Energy Saver has special options for laptops—like separate settings for battery and power-cord use.

  • A better installer. The Mac OS X 10.2 installer offers some welcome new options—like a “clean install” option that gives you an all-new, fresh copy of Mac OS X without requiring you to back up your whole Mac.

  • Other 10.2 tweaks. The complete list of changes in Mac OS X 10.2 would fill a book—in fact, you’re holding it. But some of the nicest changes aren’t so much new features as the removal of bugs and glitches. Macs don’t show up in duplicate and triplicate in the Connect to Server window. Icons now stay put on the desktop where you left them. Renaming icons now works as it should. And so on.

    On the other hand, even 10.2 isn’t bug-free in the original release. That’s why installing the upgrades that occasionally come your way via your Internet connection—10.2.1 and beyond—is an excellent idea.

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