Fact Controlled
for Special Learners

Busman's Holiday
To Upgrade or Not?
by Steve Wood
October 16, 1998



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Tomorrow, Apple Computer will release it's Allegro (OS 8.5) operating system update. And in just a few days, a bunch of wonderfully colorful folks will sit down with Judge Jackson to decide if anyone can really prove that Microsoft just might be guilty of predatory business practices. I think the exact term used is "alleged anticompetitive behavior." What a terrific time to be a pro-Mac computer columnist!

On Wednesday, Steve Jobs announced a $309 million annual profit for Apple Computer. The on-time releases of System 8 and 8.1, the incredible G3 line of Macs, and the phenomenal new iMac have returned Apple to profitability. Jobs also officially announced the Saturday, August---oops, October 17 release of System 8.5. An Apple press release calls it "the must-have operating system (OS) upgrade for the Macintosh."

Both MacOS Rumors and Macintouch describe a long list of new features in the release. Henry Norr reviews the changes in the user interface in a Macintouch column. The Macintosh News Network has a MacOS 8.5 Visual Tour. Time n has The 10 Coolest Non-Buzzword Features of MacOS 8.5. Even Andy Ihnatko gave his tongue-in-cheek spin on the features in his last MacCentral column.

With all the above, I figured I had to write a System 8.5 column or look for other work. Come to think of it, I'm still "on leave" from MacTimes, so I guess I am looking for work.

Apple's web site gives the following promo for 8.5:

"Leading the over 70 new features and technologies in Mac OS 8.5 are:

  • Sherlock, the personal search detective that allows users to find information on their Macintosh and the Internet quickly and easily.
  • Improved network copy performance that is faster than Windows NT.
  • PowerPC-native AppleScript that is up to five times faster, provides control of nearly all aspects of the Mac OS and includes the ability to attach scripts to folders for easily automating tasks.
  • A simplified installation process that allows most customers to upgrade in less than 15 minutes. Installs can be saved for reuse and there is now support for simultaneous "push" installs of Mac OS 8.5 on networked Macs, using Apple Network Assistant.
  • QuickTime 3, the latest version of Apple's industry-leading software for digital media publishing and play-back.
  • Multilingual Internet Access for viewing websites and e-mail messages from around the world in almost any language.
  • Support for the new Euro currency symbol."

With all the described features, I fear there's little to make the average Mac user's heart pound, palms sweat, and hand reach for the pocketbook. I'm not talking here about those of us with a monkey on our backs for speed, stability, and new laborsaving features. I'm talking about the user who does their checkbook with Quicken, writes a letter or two with ClarisWorks, and occasionally uses America Online to send an email.

Thinking my judgment of the release might be a bit harsh, I spent an hour watching the ZDNet version of the press release meeting. While my esteemed editor at MacTimes, Jonah Jones, was swept away by the strength of the features described by Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller, it left me still wondering what was there to make the average Mac user reach for their checkbook.

Before you pound out your flame, let me say that I heartily agree with Jobs, and Jonah, for that matter, that the new Sherlock Find/Search engine is an outstanding feature. As with every release, there are surely many positive under-the-hood improvements, but I'm not sure how useful Sherlock, network copying, ColorSync, and the rest will be to those who aren't constantly chasing down links and web info, on a network, or in desktop publishing.

The crux of the problem seems to be appealing features and price. As with most computer programs and operating systems, Apple's MacOS goes through periodic updates and upgrades. The updates are free, but the upgrades usually carry a suggested retail price of up to $100. The MacOS 8.5 upgrade carries a $99 SRP with no discount to previous MacOS users. Fortunately, discounts are available to all previous purchasers of an iMac. (Great move, Apple.) Often, there is some kind of price break for those who've paid their way through System 7.5, 7.6, and 8.0 (recent "paid" upgrades). This time Apple, apparently feeling secure with the iMac's tremendous success, decided to return to the Apple arrogance of old and require almost everyone to pay the full bill, regardless of previous OS purchases. Following on the heels of Microsoft's underwhelming Windows 98 upgrade, Apple may have produced what many average Mac users will see as a "me too" upgrade, with few new features for the average user. Apple may appear to be trying to wring every penny it can from the faithful. At least, it sure looks that way to me.

On the positive side, Apple seems to be again rallying the forces with its Demo Days. Those who visit an Apple retailer where OS 8.5 is available will be able to talk to some knowledgeable people about the new release. There, certainly, the strengths of the OS upgrade can be shown. But how many average Mac users are going to be there this weekend and next?

There's still a good bit of resentment out there in the Mac community over Apple's continued silence concerning the future of Claris Emailer. John Kinsella has an interesting piece about the problems Apple is causing itself with its intransigence on Emailer. Dan Knight, editor in chief of MacTimes, hinted in an October 6 MacMusings column at a possible System 8.5 upgrade boycott.

"I'm tempted to propose a Mac OS 8.5 boycott by Emailer fans, but I think we'd be the bigger losers."

Boycott MacOS 8.5Dan was referring to Apple Computer's continuing silence on committing to future development of the Claris Emailer client. While not entirely serious, he has touched upon a thread of thought that may prove to be true. Die-hard Emailer users aren't going to be terribly thrilled about upgrading with all of the questions about compatibility of Emailer and OS 8.5 and with Apple's continuing silence on Emailer. I guess Apple is still "considering plans for the future of the product."

Microsoft has long felt users' ire in boycotts. Mitch Stone maintains the Boycott Microsoft site. (Very entertaining reading for we Mac folks. :-) Windows 98 appears to be their flop-of-the-year.

I'm not really sure anyone would need to organize a boycott. Apple may have created an unorganized "ho-hum" boycott with this release. The Emailer issue and the lateness of 8.5 won't matter much to the everyday Mac user. What will matter is what it appears to do for them.

When I look around at the elementary school where I teach, only one machine is running System 8--mine. All others are running the latest free update of System 7.1, 7.5 or 7.6 with which they came licensed. No OS upgrades have been purchased by the school. Our techie rails at Apple's continuing upgrade fee for System 7.6! And, Apple has given him a justified argument against the Macintosh platform that could be used with our school board. This would be a great time for Apple to post 7.6.1 as a free download. They wouldn't lose many 8.5 sales, but could create a lot of goodwill with frugal school systems that simply can't afford the latest and greatest OS.

One thing I'm not reading much about on the web is about OS 8.5's stability. And believe me, stability is THE FEATURE I hear the most about from Mac users. I can't comment on the stability of OS 8.5, as I've not used it yet. I'm still trying to figure out how I can hide a $99+tax+shipping charge on the MasterCard from my wife?

Apple even gives us a great straight line for not upgrading on their upgrade page:

"No need to dress up: you can purchase your copy of Mac OS 8.5 from The Apple Store anytime, day or night."

Wow! Why should we be the ones to dress up? Apple should have on a mask and be carrying a gun to ask $99 for this upgrade.

The funny thing is, after saying all of the above, I've got this OS itch. Maybe others will feel the itch, but I'm not terribly confident about it.

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updated and reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/18/2000
©1998 Steven L. Wood