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Potholed and Incomplete
'Using Mac OS X is like touring a land of fabulous ancient treasures,' says Andy Orlowski of The Register, 'with a tourist authority that's still busy renovating them, and that hasn't quite completed the infrastructure. The sights can be breathtaking, but the roads are potholed and incomplete, and sometimes you have to get out and push.'
In a piece that arrives on 18 November - and which Rixstep has only recently found - several months after the official release on 24 August 2002, Orlowski, a seasoned Mac user, sums up the enigma of OS X 10.2 Jaguar better than any other reviewer.
Orlowski addresses the fact that the much-touted 'switch' campaign and the feverish migration at Slash Dot only represent a small part of the Apple demographic, and that the 90% core of Mac users are still not all that impressed.
'Both camps are numerically small - most potential computer users in the West have already had plenty of experience with Windows. So it's whether the middle ground must be persuaded to switch: and that middle ground includes as much as 90 per cent of Apple's installed base,' writes Orlowski.
A Work in Progress
OS X is a work in progress, says Orlowski: 'It restores some but far from all of the functionality missing from its Apple and NeXT heritage.' And Orlowski, sensitive to the performance issues with OS X, reminds us that NextStep was never built for speed either. But Orlowski's biggest concern lies elsewhere:
'The package manager Fink is having problems. Chris Roberts at the GNU Mac Public Archive reckons it will take 18 months to get the 4,000 programs in the software library built with the new GCC 3.0 compiler, and has taken the CD off the market.'
And he is not particularly happy about the way Apple seems to be deliberately sabotaging third-party software, especially software designed to replace the Dock:
'The Dock is more obtrusive than ever. With earlier versions, you could (in single user mode) move it out of its 'Core Services' home folder and subsequently use a replacement launcher and switcher.'
'It was with the timer showing 1 hour 43 minutes to go during the Installation Process I had a heretical thought,' writes Orlowski in his summary, and continues:
'This operating system upgrade is a minor part in deciding Apple's fate. Apple will appeal most to people on the strength of its hardware ergonomics, and features such as instant sleep and wake up. For novices the 'iBundle' scores highly on functionality and usability, particularly for those strange people who think computers are a tool and not an end in themselves. For developers there's no more sumptuous place to be.
'But,' says Orlowski, 'there are significant reasons for not switching that Apple must address. One is the fear that as the sole supplier of Apple computers it indulges in exactly the kind of price gouging that people want to switch away from. Recent .Mac pricing and the $129 fee for this upgrade cause justifiable anxiety for potential switchers.
'Another is that performance has fallen so far behind the PC - with a major schism between Motorola and Apple obliging, it appears, Apple to overclock older processors. The perception is that Apple isn't following Moore's Law, which has traditionally boosted slower software. OS/2, Windows NT, and Windows 95 were all overweight on arrival, but Intel eventually fixed this.'
'The third, and I'd suggest biggest drawback of using a Macintosh right now,' concludes Orlowski, 'is that the web browsing experience is awful. The lovely OmniWeb browser is undergoing a major overhaul, Chimera is promising but immature, and while the Mac version of Internet Explorer is preferable in several ways to the Windows version, in its OS X incarnation it's a serious disaster. To sell Macintosh computers to that huge middle ground between novices and geeks, Apple needs to offer a great browser.'
To which one can only concur. The Omni overhaul is the least that can be done, considering the fact that this browser costs significant money and still crashes more than any Netscape beta ever did - and for the silliest of reasons too.
And Chimera - a Netscape product - is as bloated as any Mosaic offshoot since version 4 - and just as liable to crash, and not only itself, but your entire 'robust' Unix operating system.
Strangely, the Microsoft browser is the most stable and most reliable for the platform, and it's not even a true Cocoa app.
On the other hand, given the constrictive and sometimes remarkably wacky environment the Apple OO gurus want to corral all development in, this might be its greatest asset. For if the self-touted Cocoa experts at Omni still cannot write a program that can stay standing for more than ten minutes, how good is Cocoa anyway?
The eighteen Cocoa programs used to attract 'switchers' hardly constitute a convincing track record - not when this is all the platform has to show for its eighteen years of existence.