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Some Impressions of OS 8
by Steve Wood

July 23, 1997
Updated August 10, 1998



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Mac OSApple's much awaited System 8, formerly code-named Tempo, was officially rolled-out July 22, 1997. Bride of Buster, the 8.1 update became available January 20, 1998. Between the two releases, Apple has produced a considerably improved operating system in both stability and features. It appears that Allegro, or System 8.5, won't be released until September or October of '98.

List price for OS 8 is $99, with 8.1 being a free update (although 8.0 paid users can purchase the full 8.1 CD for $19.95). The added feature set of OS 8 and 8.1 are well worth the price. Desktop Pictures, Platinum Appearance, and other showy items will catch your attention, but the big changes are "under the hood." The multithreaded finder is a big improvement. While the stability isn't what I'd like, it is much improved. And, hour for hour of use, it's considerably more trouble-free than my WinTel box with Win95 (and patch 1). Open Transport 1.3, included in the 8.1 update, has a nice speed bump. The new Hierarchical File System Plus saves a good bit of disk space and seems to me to be a bit quicker than disk reads and writes under the old HFS. Note that HFS+ is new and a bit touchy as yet. You can only access disks so formatted with a machine running System 8.1, so watch how you format your Zip's, Syquest's, and floppies you take to another machine.

Being a cross-platform user, "sticky menus" immediately won my heart. Click on a menu and it stays down. Coupled with Fabien Octave's superb shareware control panel BeHierarchic, which allows movement deeper than the 5 levels prescribed by Apple Menu Items, navigating through several layers of folders to an item becomes a breeze. "Spring-loaded" folders allow you to push through folders from the desktop (or wherever) to whatever level you wish without repeated clicking to open folders. Option-clicking the close button of the foremost of a series of open folders closes them all. Tabbed folders, shown below, make complex projects easier. Coupled with GoMac, they should be a killer!

tabbed folders image

The Launcher is finally stable! (How many crashes have you had trying to option-drag a button to the trash from the Launcher under previous systems?) And, with the new view options, you can take any folder, fill it with aliases, change them to buttons (choice of 3 sizes), and make separate "launchers" wherever you wish. Sometimes,I add a "Primary Launcher" on my desktop at school for my incredible crew of first-graders.

Many of the features added have been available as sharewares, but they are now under the Mac system, subject to compatibility and refinement.

The changeover to System 8 isn't without additional expenses. The list price of $99 is just the beginning. Any number of programs will need updates. Compatibility problems require updates for Conflict Catcher, StuffIt Deluxe, Norton Utilities, Ram Doubler and Speed Doubler. There are more, but just those few mainline programs will set you back a few bucks. For me, I simply have dropped the frequently troubled Doublers. StuffIt Deluxe 4.5 is a major disappointment since only the basic program is stable under 8.1. Norton Utilities won't be able to repair HFS+ volumes for 3-6 months according to some sources. Disk First Aid 8.2 has been able to handle most problems on my machine with HFS+ formatting. MicroMat's TechTool Pro is also compatible with HFS+ and OS 8.1, but lacks a defragmentation tool. My machine requires quite a bit less RAM without Norton and seems considerably quicker!

The good news is that most applications and many extensions and control panels still work well with System 8. A few that don't are being upgraded for free by the authors. That's real class, folks (Are you listening, Aladdin, Connectix, Symantec?).

The Mac OS 8.1 Special Report is an excellent third-party guide to 8.1, by the Macintosh Resource Page, MacFixIt, and Macintouch.

Some of the features of 8.1 are said to be just the beginning, and will not be fully implemented until Allegro (8.2. 8.5, or ?) ships next July or August. I've seen nothing official of Allegro, but even if I had, Apple's NDA would prevent me from saying anything about it until its release. The Macintosh News Network has a nice description of what to expect. They also have their own Special Report on 8.1. MacWEEK's Clifford Colby also has an interesting preview of Allegro.

Thanks to Mike Gerenser of Dream Design and
Marc Yun for contributing these graphics (above and below, respectively) to the Join the Mac OS 8 Web Campaign!

How do you get started on a beta-testing project from Apple?

For me, I saw the listing below on the Macintouch May 3rd web page and followed up the links. At this writing, both links are still active. Follow the trail and you'll end up at Apple's Customer Quality Feedback page.

"Apple's Richard Ford provides an Open Transport status update and asks for testers to help verify fixes for Ping of Death, SYN attacks, timeout problems, and other bugs."

A few emails, forms, and faxes later I found myself downloading the Tempo b5 beta of System 8. By the b5 release, things were pretty stable, so using it wasn't much of a chore, other than some really nasty third-party conflicts. The 100 MB downloads about once a week were a bit of a chore. I started out downloading them at school with their ISDN connection. When the school server went down (and is still in critical condition), I struggled with it at home, even resorted to using a much newer and swifter WinTel machine to download Mac OS betas. Yes, I know it seems a sacrilege, but, imagine the poor thing unwittingly advancing the cause of Macintosh.

How do you get kicked off a beta-testing project from Apple?

I'm really not sure what happened. I didn't violate my NDA (nondisclosure agreement) and kept my contact at Apple CQF informed of email and machine changes. I filed bug reports as needed. But when Allegro (8.5) was seeded, I wasn't part of the seed. After many emails, I found I had a new contact (maybe non-contact would be better) at Apple who informed me my services were no longer required. No reasons or explanations were given. I really wonder if Apple is cutting back its seeds on system betas and other products, and have said so in print in my column at MacTimes.

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All links checked and updated 6/28/2000
Some links deleted due to expired references
©1997 Steven L. Wood