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My Thoughts On Apple’s Operating System

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Apple launched “Tiger” (OS X 10.4) with expectations of improvements over “Panther” (OS X 10.3), moved into things like desktop widgets and it already has the thing that everyone reckons is the “next big OS thing” – desktop search.

Apple have had a good search engine built into iTunes for quite some time and have simply based their desktop search on this “core”. This new OS-wide search engine is known as Spotlight, and to be honest … spotlight has failed to set the world on fire. It’s quirky and problematic, it has a funny interface that people keep trying to re-design and has even inspired people to threaten to break parts of their computer.

So I’m not convinced that desktop search is a killer app. I’ve actually got a very good desktop search program on this computer at the moment, but I hardly ever use it. When I do use it, then I’m very appreciative of its ability to find obscure notes I made months ago, but that is a rare event – I would miss it were I to lose it, but its hardly something that is on my horizon as a “killer app” even if it does save me 3 hours of work once every 4 months.

As for the Widgets, there are maybe 4 or 5 out of the hundreds available that I actually use. At the end of the day Widgets are just a memory hungry rehash of ideas like Active Desktop, which tanked at the time and given that no other Mac owners I know use Widgets for much are arguably tanking now.

Tiger is more “evolution” than “revolution” but frankly I don’t see anything much wrong with that. As regular readers will know, I’m well impressed with Apple’s laptops; I’m the proud owner of an iBook and we’ve been doing more and more with Apple computers at work where the rest of the team seem to be enjoying the change as much as I do. OS X has worked very well for me since I got hold of my iBook. It is easy to use, fast and pretty damn reliable.

OS X is built on UNIX, which means it has a long history behind its development, and also a relatively low cost (but not zero) for people who want to convert software to/from other UNIX based systems such as Linux.

Don’t underestimate that Unix underpinning when it comes to appeal to experienced IT people: When I first started using Panther, I had an app hang and I didn’t know where to find Apple’s equivalent of the Windows Task Manager to force it to quit. No matter, I dusted off my Unix ‘superpowers’, opened up a terminal window, listed all running processes to make a note of the Process ID of my problem app, and forced it out with a swift application of the “kill -9” command. The fact that I still didn’t know how to use a Mac then didn’t matter because I was able to leverage the fact that I *did* know Unix, and could address the Mac system using that knowledge to solve my problem.

And last but by no means least is the switch from PowerPC chips to Intel x86 chips. In a way, this should be totally irrelevant to most computer users, but this change to a small internal component that the majority of PC or Mac users will never physically see in their lives has generated no end of interest in Apple computers. I’m at a loss to explain why any “normal end user” would care a damn about this, but apparently they do. And its all good publicity for Apple and its operating systems.

Apple score big on security too, perhaps far more than they deserve to. While the idea that OS X is immune from viruses and worms is a myth and those who repeat it are just plain ignorant, you don’t have to spend very long comparing Windows to Tiger to see who is in the lead here at the moment. OS X makes very good use of both its inbuilt UNIX architecture and of its clean break from previous Apple OSes to make attacks on its systems much harder work for aspiring hackers.

All in all, Apple have a good system here that will serve them well for the future, I think. They are ahead of their own schedule – which predicted the launch of Intel Macs later on this year – and they are ahead of the competition in the OS market too; Tiger had Apple’s versions of the things that Longhorn / Vista was meant to include, and Apple released Tiger some time ago and are working towards Leopard, the next step in Steve Jobs’ master plan. I’m not so sure I agree with everything Steve says, but given how rich he is based on his work and ideas and how rich I’m not based on my work and ideas, I’m quite prepared to accept that maybe the problem is with me!

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