[Retrieved from http://www.wormintheapple.gr/articles/OSX_SW.html on Sunday, February 10, 2002]

A web site dedicated to constructive(?) criticism about Apple's products and policies


Mac OS Episode X

The moment I got my first look at the environment of the latest version of the Mac OS, I was immediately struck with by how similar it was to the new Star Wars release. Being a Mac and Star Wars fan for over a decade, I find that both sequels leave much to be desired. Let us examine together the eerie parallels between these two milestone products.

Parallel No 1: The Legend. When the first (actually fourth) episode was released it was immediately a runaway success, and far beyond anything that anyone had ever seen before. With a compelling interface, strong plot and memorable characters, Mac OS (then under the unassuming and humble name "System") became the operating system of choice for anybody who actually wanted to be creative while working with a computer, rather than being creative while trying to get a computer to work. Over the years and several more releases that added to the legend, both developed a strong following of fans, to the point that many people viewed them more like religions than simple commercial products.

Parallel No 2: The Anticipation. Then came a dry period, on which fans were left to use the original product, but had no significant new features to get excited about. Oh, there were books, and toys, and many other merchandising concepts, but the thing that drew fans to it in the first place was missing. No new innovation, no revolutionary technologies, nothing as compelling as a totally new chapter in the saga. Fans wanted a new episode, something that could combine the best modern technology had to offer with all the elements that made the original such a huge success. Fans wanted revolution. What they got instead was minimal evolution.

Parallel No 3: The Rumors. When the first rumors of a new episode were surfaced, a wave of excitement ran though all the fans, and in their hunger for more information on the new release, many lost contact with reality and started to circulate the most incredible and unfounded rumors about the features of the new release. These rumors made the new release look like the best thing that had ever happened to mankind since the birth of Christ. Many skeptics cautioned that the new release was still far off, and it might not be as excellent as fans expected. But fans did not care. They were convinced that the next release was ‘due next month’ and already made plans to put their lives on hold and stand in line for days (even weeks) to buy tickets. As it turned out, the next episode in the saga was nowhere near completion. It would be years before fans would see a truly new episode.

Parallel No 4: Mac OS 8 - Star Wars Special Edition. What fans got instead of a new episode was a re-release of the originals, with some cosmetic changes thrown in to justify the price and gloss over the fact that there were no new features or innovations to speak of. But at this point fans were starving for something — anything — to get excited about after so many years of waiting in vain for a new release. So they went and paid to see the re-releases, and tried hard to convince themselves that it truly was an improvement over the original. They got very angry when anyone dared to point out that the new releases were just hastily made-over products, designed only for the purpose of milking the fans' enthusiasm some more.

Parallel No 5: The Hype. Then at last, slowly, the rumors started to become true: a new episode was in the works, and it was said to be very big. It had to be, since fans had been expecting it for almost a decade. The production was shrouded in secrecy, and fans were bursting with anticipation. The media got into the game, and the new release became a major news event, even bigger than many minor wars.

Parallel No 6: The prequel. And finally, the big moment came: the lights went down, the familiar music blasted through the speakers, and the fans were enthralled by the plot for almost 3 minutes, after which they started "getting a bad feeling" as Obi-Wan Kenobi so perceptively stated at the very beginning of the movie. Some fans were disappointed; many more were so determined to adore anything bearing the name of Star Wars, that they actually convinced themselves that the new episode was worth the wait. Some fans actually liked the movie, but mostly those were the ones that had not even been born when the original movie had been released.

The same reactions are in some measure true of Mac fans, when they are confronted with the latest preview of the Mac OS, which in many ways feels more like a prequel than a sequel.

The Dock vs. Jar Jar Binks. The most controversial (and annoying to many) character in Mac OS X is the Dock. Like Jar Jar, it sports the latest in graphics technology, offering stunning visual effects, and... and... er... that's it.

Also like Jar Jar, after you get over the appearance, you realize that there's not much substance to it. Oh sure, it's OK for a first version of a new operating system, but not for the tenth version of a well established and popular operating system that's been used for years by users all around the globe. Given the choice, I think I would actually prefer to have Jar Jar on my desktop.


UNIX is Darth Maul. Like Darth Maul, UNIX's command line interface is not something that the average Mac user would like to encounter in a dark alley. If there is one thing that always made me proud to be a Mac user, it was the fact that even when my Mac crashed or was starting up with extensions off, I still had all the major elements of the GUI available. When I sit in front of a Wintel PC, even a brand new one, it seems oddly obsolete and quaint to see all the text reports during startup, and to know that at any time I can quit Windows and return to DOS. Mac OS, with all its shortcomings, feels light years ahead just because you know it's not a shell.

UNIX has changed all that. Like Darth Maul, it's an enigmatic, malignant thing lurking behind the glitzy Aqua interface, ready to pounce on you when you least expect it. And as far as vocabulary is concerned, Darth Maul was much more eloquent and easy to understand (even though he spoke only twice in the entire movie) than UNIX is going to be.

My feeling is, let UNIX fans use Linux. It's both cheaper and  multi-platform.  I want my Mac OS to be easy and consistent in functionality, architecture and interface with what I have learned in the past fifteen years. That's what made it better than Windows in the first place. Why on earth someone would want to use a UNIX based Mac (instead of a much cheaper — and more expandable — Linux based PC) is beyond me. Even Microsoft had to back off from trying to enforce Windows 2000 on its mainstream users, and came up with Windows me instead.

I am not saying that UNIX is not powerful or not a good choice as a core for an operating system. What I'm saying is that there are already other OS's that implement a UNIX core architecture, and that the original appeal of the Mac — and what made it a success — was not its power, but its ease of use.

Apple has picked the wrong battle to fight. As powerful as Mac OS X is, it will never be as easy to use as the original Mac OS, and given the choice of  using a non-standard operating system that resembles Windows NT/2000, or actually using Windows NT/2000 (with its cheaper hardware and established software base) most people will prefer using Windows, or even Linux. Apple has survived so far because it had the easiest OS in the market. Now its trying to compete with the big boys in their own back yard, throwing away all that made the Mac popular in the first place. Good luck Apple!  Personally, I think I'm going to be running the Classic Mac OS until it's too obsolete to use, and then switch to Windows, which will probably be as difficult to use as OS X, but at least it won't be as expensive.

© The Worm In The Apple