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A Stunning Technical Achievement

From the introduction to Mac OS X: The Missing Manual by David Pogue and Chris Stone, Pogue Press. All rights reserved.


Without a doubt, Mac OS X is a stunning technical achievement. But beware its name.

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.

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.

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.

Getting used to the new features is easy. But if you're used to the old Mac operating system, what's harder is unlearning what you worked so long to master. For example:

  • Extension conflicts. The number one destabilising factor of the traditional Macintosh has been banished forever: Mac OS X doesn't use system extensions and control panels. It's time to forget all the troubleshooting routines Mac fans have had to learn over the years, including pressing the Shift key at startup, using Extensions Manager, and buying Conflict Catcher. You will never again perform an extension conflict test, trying to figure out which extension is making your Mac freeze. These routines have no meaning in Mac OS X.

  • Memory controls. There's no memory control panel in Mac OS X. Nor will you find a Get Info window for each application that lets you change its memory allotment. This is great news.

    Mac OS X manages memory quickly, intelligently, and constantly. The reason you don't allot a certain amount of your Mac's memory to a program, as you had to do in Mac OS 9, is that Mac OS X simply gives each running program as much memory as it needs.

    So what happens if you're running 125 programs at once? Mac OS X uses virtual memory.

  • Rebuilding the desktop. If you don't remember having to perform this arcane procedure on your Mac, you don't know how lucky you are. Unlike Mac OS 9, Mac OS X doesn't have the unfortunate habit of holding onto the icons, in the internal database, of programs long since deleted from your hard drive. As a result, you never have to rebuild that desktop, and you'll never see the symptoms that suggest it's time for desktop rebuilding (a general slowdown and generic icons replacing the usual custom ones).


Apple is providing links to these applications as a courtesy, and makes no representations regarding the applications or any information related thereto. Any questions, complaints or claims regarding the applications must be directed to the appropriate software vendor.

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