New York Times, October 29, 1998
STATE OF THE ART / By PETER H. LEWIS
How unfortunate that 95 out of 100 personal computer buyers might not care that Mac OS 8.5, Apple Computer's new operating system software for Macintosh computers, is easier to use, more elegant, more innovative and more reliable than Windows 98.
But for the nearly 5 percent -- Apple's current share of new computer sales -- who do care, and for the unknown percentage of computer owners who may be frustrated with the industry-standard Windows operating system, the good news is that Mac OS 8.5 is now available, as a $99 upgrade package for Macs of recent vintage or as the default system on new Apple computers.
Mac OS 8.5 is certainly a better operating system than earlier versions of the Mac OS and, in some ways, for some users, better than Windows. It is not free of headaches, of course, and an operating system upgrade should never, ever be taken lightly. Several of my favorite older applications crashed when introduced to the new OS.
As with any new OS upgrade, it is prudent to wait awhile before taking the plunge, to make sure others have had a chance to find all the bugs. And there are always bugs. Some could be serious: Apple said this week it is investigating reports from a few users that Mac OS 8.5 damaged their hard disks. Owners of Macintosh "clones" and some models of Powerbooks should be especially cautious.
Mac OS 8.5 was written specifically for the Power PC chip, which means it cannot be installed on older Macintoshes based on the Motorola 68000 series microprocessors, including the popular Quadras that preceded the current Power Macintosh line. Nor will it work on older Macs even if they have a Power PC upgrade card.
This is a disappointment of high magnitude, especially for those of us who own an assortment of older Macs and Powerbooks. It signals that Apple has cut loose those older Macs, sending them adrift just as it did the Apple II.
For those who have a Power PC Macintosh, however, and the minimum 24 megabytes of RAM and 155 megabytes of vacant hard disk space needed for the upgrade, the main advantages of upgrading to the new Mac OS can be summarized in a few points:
That fact alone means that most computer users will choose a Windows computer over a Macintosh computer, and it is hard to argue against the logic. There is more software available for Windows. New products almost always come out for Windows before Mac versions -- if they come out for the Mac at all. More support is available for Windows machines. And Windows machines are cheaper.
In other words, the Mac is surrounded on all sides, and outnumbered 24 to 1. That is precisely the kind of situation that invigorates Macintosh users, and now they have a new operating system to cheer about.
The real question is not whether Mac OS 8.5 is a worthy operating system upgrade -- that is an easy call -- but whether it is safe, and smart, to buy a Macintosh today. Six months ago, even some of Apple's most loyal supporters struggled with those questions.
But the company that once did almost everything wrong now seems to be doing almost everything right. Apple just reported its first profitable year since 1995. At this point there is little fear for Apple's survival.
The company introduced a series of popular and innovative products this year, including the flat-panel Studio Display monitor, the G3 Powerbooks and the head-turning iMac, which has been wildly popular despite its flaws. (If you are shopping for an iMac today, be sure to get the Revision B model.)
Apple asserts that the recent success of its iMac has persuaded a number of software developers to create programs for the Macintosh platform. Apple also contends that a substantial percentage of iMac customers are either first-time computer buyers or born-again Macintosh users who lost faith, joined the Windows camp and are coming home.
And now comes Mac OS 8.5, which demonstrates that Apple managed to salvage something good from the Copland operating system debacle, in which Apple squandered a huge head start in operating system design and allowed Microsoft Windows to catch up to the Mac.
Is it smart to choose a Macintosh today? Perhaps not in the corporate world, where Windows has won almost all the desktops, except in traditional Apple strongholds like graphic arts and publishing. Apple's real strength -- and its best hope for the future -- is in the consumer market. More than half the households in the United States still do not have a personal computer, in part because of cost and in part because PC's are intimidating and too hard to use. Apple, with its relatively easy-to-use Mac OS, has the best opportunity to convert these non-users into customers, especially if it can come up with a sub-$1,000 Mac.
For those who find safety in numbers, Windows is the safe, smart choice. For those who simply want the best tool for the job, the Mac is certainly worth consideration.
A few cautions:
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