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Death to the little smiling guy

Thanks to Jaguar, Apple’s traditional Mac OS is on the way out.

Apple and CEO Steve Jobs have made it clear: Mac OS X is the future of the Apple operating system, while the traditional Mac OS, currently in its last incarnation as version 9.x, is heading for extinction.

At the 2002 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in May, Jobs showed Mac OS 9 in a coffin and pronounced it dead before touting the importance of Mac OS X. And in the latest, and very impressive, rev of Mac OS X (10.2, better known as Jaguar) Apple is no longer including separate Mac OS 9 CDs. You can still run legacy Mac applications in Mac OS X’s Classic environment, but Apple is obviously and not-so-subtley pushing users and developers toward Mac OS X. (“Classic” mode uses an old trick of running an operating system–in this case, Mac OS 9–within a virtual machine or emulation inside of a newer operating system.)

Is Apple making a smart move or gambling needlessly? Most folks with whom we talked thought the company’s transition plan was solid, though it poses risks. For example, while there are, according to Apple, about 4,000 native Mac OS X applications available, there are still many more than that for the traditional Mac operating system. QuarkXPress, a cornerstone of the publishing business (an Apple stronghold), has no Mac OS X version available, though one is expected early in 2003. And there are still many games and some audio tools that have yet to make the move to Mac OS X, not to mention all the legacy applications users would prefer not to upgrade just yet.

Apple says there’s a simple reason for not including a Mac OS 9 CD with Jaguar: the vast majority of Mac users who will be buying the 10.2 upgrade already have Mac OS 9 installed on their Macs. For those who don’t, Apple plans to offer an “Up-to-Date” program that’s expected to cost $19.95 for a Mac OS 9 CD and require proof of purchase of Jaguar. The program hadn’t been launched as this article went to press, but should be in place as this issue hits the stands.

ComputerUser asked several companies about the feasibility of Apple’s Mac OS X-only future. Some, including Microsoft and Macromedia, declined to comment; everyone else but one felt it was an inevitable move.

Wil Shipley, president of The Omni Group–which makes such Mac products as the OmniWeb browser–thinks Apple’s decision is a practical one.

“Most people I’ve spoken to who are afraid to make the switch to Mac OS X are simply afraid of the unknown,” he says. “Nobody has ever given me a solid reason, mostly because there aren’t any. Mac OS X is a lot easier to use, a ton more fun, and way more powerful. And, with Classic, you can still run all your old applications. If someone buys a machine and it’s running Mac OS X, and they use Mac OS X for an hour or so, they’ll have no desire to switch back. And at Omni, we’ve encountered no problems with Classic mode. It works great. Even obscure things like a Mac OS 9-only driver for a six-channel USB audio adapter worked fine in Classic.”

Shipley says anyone actively developing software for Macs is using one of two toolkits: Carbon or Cocoa. Applications written with either toolkit run natively under Mac OS X. Cocoa is the new framework written just for Mac OS X, and while it’s much easier to use Cocoa than Carbon, there’s a bit of re-architecting that needs to be done if you’re switching from Carbon to Cocoa.

On the other hand, Carbon is the same set of application programming interfaces that was available under Mac OS 9, just brought forward to a modern operating system. Moving an application from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X just involves recompiling against Carbon. There’s a little work to be done because Carbon is slightly different in places, but it isn’t a major effort, Shipley adds.

“The only Mac OS 9 native apps we still see are from companies that can’t be bothered or can’t afford to recompile their applications against Carbon,” he says. “These companies are soon going to find themselves very lonely.”

And he doesn’t think that the lack of a Mac OS X-native version of Quark will impede the new operating system’s success very much. XPress runs fine in the Classic mode, he adds.

“Graphics houses should switch to Mac OS X now,” Shipley says. “The system has better print drivers (based on industry-standard CUPS), is a thousand times more stable, has multi-tasking so they can handle huge workloads, and has much better file sharing. It’s crazy not to switch. The only reason is inertia.”

Karl Seppala, a spokesperson for Sonnet Technologies, which makes Mac upgrade cards, also thinks Apple’s basically on the right path, though he feels the company should take things slow in the home and education fronts. Many families have multiple Macs, some of which may not be able to run Mac OS X, or at least run it well, he says.

Some other vertical market users, especially in the music area, are really going to be stuck, as some of their favorite applications have not been announced yet for the new operating system, Seppala says. And he thinks that the types of users who will migrate in the near future really depends on the cost of the software and the machines they need.

“If someone is using Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and a handful of other products, they could easily have a $500-plus expense beyond the cost of Mac OS X,” Seppala says. “God only knows what Quark might charge. This creates an obvious problem if the market wants a consumer computer for ‘around $1000’ and a pro desktop for ‘around $2000.’ Blocking the use of Mac OS 9 might be viewed by OS 9 users as a $500 price increase on all new systems. That probably won’t help Apple’s sales.”

There have been rumors that Microsoft might lower the price of Office X (currently over $400), which would help. If Apple and companies like MS can “lower the bar” to getting to Mac OS X apps, the migration rate would probably accelerate, Seppala says. Meanwhile, the developer community has largely moved on to Mac OS X, where resources and sales warranted the move.

“I don’t think that this initiative will get companies that have put Mac apps on life support to invest in OS X development, but in markets like music this will probably be moot, as users will just stick with their old systems until they die,” Seppala says. “Many musicians are on older machines anyway, as the phrase ‘starving musician’ is based largely in reality.”

As for the publishing market, he doesn’t think that’s a long term, major concern. He expects to see a Mac OS X native version of Quark XPress in early 2003.

Adam Samuels, a spokesperson for Intuit, says the company is totally behind Mac OS X and Apple’s plans regarding it. Executives are “excited about the new capabilities contained in Mac OS 10.2.”

In fact, not only has Intuit brought its popular Quicken financial application to Mac OS X, it’s planning an updated version of QuickBooks for Mac (small business accounting software) in the first quarter of next year. QuickBooks Pro Edition 5.0 for Mac will be built for Mac OS X and will also support Mac OS 9. Intuit also expects to release a new version of QuickBooks for Mac on an annual basis. All this, though Intuit ceased developing QuickBooks for the Mac four years ago, before returning to the fold in August.

“We’ve seen our customers’ interest in Mac OS X grow over the past couple of years,” Samuels says. “And Quicken 2003 for Mac is the second version to support both Mac OS X and Mac OS 9.”

Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus–author of 39 books (including “Dr. Mac: The OS X Files”), a computer columnist for “The Houston Chronicle,” and Apple Solution Experts Trainer for Mac OS X–is, not surprisingly, totally in agreement with Apple’s plans.

“Mac users have to, at some point, realize they have to make a choice,” he says. “Will they move to Mac OS X? Or switch to another OS? Frankly, I think for most Mac users, no matter how much they gripe about it, will be happier with OS X than XP or W2K or Linux or…”

For those who have lots of legacy applications, they’ll be “fine” if their programs run in Classic, he says, because the environment will be around for a good long time. The doc expects to see Classic support still in Mac OS X three years from now, even if, at that time, Macs no longer boot into Mac OS 9.

The developer community has almost all embraced Mac OS X by now, and we seem to be at the tail end of the Mac OS 9 era, LeVitus says. From here forward expect few “OS 9 only” programs released and fewer and fewer hybrid OS X/OS 9 apps, he adds. He’s not so sanguine about Quark’s lateness to the Mac OS X party.

“I think Quark blew it. They’re struggling now to stay in the good graces of the graphics community and not doing very well by most accounts,” LeVitus says. “I hear that upgrades have been selling poorly. Could it be that people want solutions that run natively in OS X? Ask Adobe. They seem to be doing quite well this time with their campaign to interest former Quark users in their InDesign solution (which is a darn good OS X program, by the way).”

Daniel M. East, president of the Mid-Atlantic Mac User Group Team and a member of the Apple Consultants Network, admits “the advancement of technologies can often leave older OS supported hardware and software behind.” However, it can be more exciting to look toward the future products and systems that are both inevitable and more profitable, he adds.

East feels that, much like those who still use a 170, 1400c, PowerComputing or IIci with 7.5.5 or 8x, if the traditional Mac operating system works for what the users require, then they’ll continue to use those products. For those who are using Mac OS 8.x or 9.x and are just procrastinating, now is the time to make the move if your hardware can support Mac OS X 10.2, he adds.

Like LeVitus, he feels that Quark is making some serious tactical blunders. “Quark XPress has been losing their footing since 9.x, and the perception seems to be that Quark couldn’t care less,” East says. “True or not, Quark will have a long and uphill climb if they wish to regain their status in the graphics community. Especially given that more and more publications and print houses are looking for AI and EPS in my experience.”

However, Robert Leeds of Power On Software, a company that makes Mac scheduling/appointment products among others, thinks it’s a mistake to drop support for Mac OS 9. After all, it seems that most of the work has been done, so maintenance should be minimal, he says. And Apple shouldn’t run the risk of frustrating Mac users who may just take a little longer to migrate, he adds.

“If the choice is to go out and buy some new machine now, there is always a possibility that a cheaper Wintel box may prevail,” Leeds says. “Certainly the new Gateway [the Profile 4] is enough of a look-alike that some users could switch to the wrong side.”

However, he acknowledged that the decision by Apple to kill Mac OS 9 is certainly beneficial to Apple and, to a certain extent, developers. It makes a number of products obsolete, but it also makes it easier to support a single platform.

“Perhaps the biggest winner will be Adobe, since they have a quality offering in the OS X page layout space,” Leeds says.

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