No more Mr Nine Guy

A fortnight ago Apple told the faithful at its Paris expo that from January 2003 new models will no longer be able to boot the classic Mac OS.

A fortnight ago Apple told the faithful at its Paris expo that from January 2003 new models will no longer be able to boot the classic Mac OS. People who still need to access classic applications on these new machines will only be able to do so from Mac OS X's classic compatibility environment.

While this announcement isn't terribly surprising after the news earlier this year that all active development on Mac OS 9 had ceased, it has still sent shock waves through the Mac community. In January Mac OS X will be 21 months old, making it still a relatively new operating system. Even though most professional Mac users accept that Mac OS X is the future, most are not yet ready for this forced migration when they purchase a new machine.

Part of the problem is the fact that migrating to Mac OS X really requires the upgrade of all your applications to take full advantage of it. As a fulltime Mac OS X user myself, I can attest that not only does running the classic compatibility environment slow your computer down but certain applications are noticeably more unstable in this environment than when booted into Mac OS 9 directly. Although most prepress users generally budget in the cost of software upgrades on at least a bi-annual basis, the fact remains that most of them will find themselves having to pay to upgrade some, if not all, of their software when they purchase a new machine.

Then there is the troubling simple fact that some professional software is not yet available for Mac OS X. The two that immediately spring to mind are the graphic artist's QuarkXPress and the sound engineer's Pro Tools. Combine this with the knowledge that some applications have been widely acknowledged to have been badly ported from the classic Mac OS in their current versions and you can see some of the reasons why professional users have been reluctant to migrate.

Educational customers are also in for a hard time. Most schools like to maintain a homogeneous network for ease of administration. Having a mix of Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9 machines in a computer lab is relatively easy, as the differences between them are slight. Mac OS X is completely different animal though, and so the administrators will be faced with either having to upgrade all computers in a lab when adding a new machine or supporting two different OSes. And as long as they are considering supporting two different OSes, why shouldn't they consider the alternative offered by Windows?

Still the news is not all bad. This is because Apple is not disabling the ability of their computers to boot Mac OS 9, it is simply not expending the development effort on writing new drivers for the older OS to support new hardware. Simply put, this means that until a model is replaced with one with substantially different hardware, Mac OS 9 should continue to be bootable on it. So, if you need to run the classic Mac OS, you still have plenty of time to purchase a machine that will be able to push out your migration to the new OS for at least two years.

Most intriguing, though, is the fact that this announcement strongly indicates that there will be interesting new hardware launched at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco next January. While this is pure speculation, it is not a large leap to suppose that the main reason the classic Mac OS will no longer be supported is because the new hardware adds features that would require a major level of development effort. Such hardware could be USB 2, FireWire 2/1394b or even the mythical G5 processor.

So, is it better to upgrade now to retain the ability to use the classic Mac OS, or wait until the new Mac OS X only machines are released? The decision Mac users take in the coming months will very much determine the wisdom of Apple's move, but I, for one, have decided to upgrade now.

Chris White is MIS manager at Cookie Time in Christchurch. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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