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Mac OS8 Information

Apple Notes By Martin Russ
Published September 1997

Version 8 of the Mac operating system is ready to roll, and Martin Russ is the man with the facts and figures...

On 22 July 1997, Apple officially announced the launch of Mac OS 8, calling it "the most significant Mac OS upgrade since 1984". Mac OS 8 is intended to provide improved user perception, integrated Internet capability, advanced multimedia features, and the obligatory improvements to stability and performance. In other words, it should look better (the new 'Platinum' look is Apple‑speak for grey), incorporate a browser into the desktop, have additional QuickTime audio, video and MIDI features, and should run faster and crash less often. These are encouraging words.

Mac OS 8 is also the next step along the path which will eventually give us the 'next‑generation' dual Mac/NextStep‑derived operating system called Rhapsody. But it's worth noting that the focus is very definitely on Power‑PC native software, and that some of the features may not be available for 680x0 Macs — the casualties of System 7.6 will not be the last. Mac OS 8 will run on all 68040 and PowerPC processor‑based Mac OS‑compatible computers. But 68030‑based systems, including those with PowerPC upgrade cards, are not supported at all. Mac OS 8 also supports the Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP) standard, although currently only prototype CHRP computers are available. Mac OS 8 will require at least 12Mb of physical RAM — and with less than 20Mb of physical RAM the virtual memory must be turned on and set to at least 20Mb. A UK‑localised version of Mac OS 8 should be available before October.

The multi‑threaded, PowerPC‑native Finder will enable faster, multitasking operations such as copying files while simultaneously performing other operations, but then how often have you ever needed to do this sort of thing — and what is it going to do to the real‑time operation of your music software? We also face yet another new Help system, this time based around hypertext. Where the Windows Help system has stayed more or less the same (with minor incremental enhancements) for some years, the Mac's Help seems to undergo major revisions with each new system. I've extracted all of my current System 7.5.5's Apple Guide files and consigned them to the wastebasket, so I remain to be convinced about the new 'Info Center' supplementary Help system.

Although Mac OS 8 aims to make the Internet easy to set up and use, integrating Netscape Navigator 3.01 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.01 into the Mac's desktop with the same depth as Internet Explorer 4.0 on the PC is going to be a challenge, because IE 4 is the Desktop in Windows. So innovations like the Personal Net Finder, which provides a Finder‑like listing of shared files and folders on a Mac OS computer to anyone connecting to it, may well "extend the capabilities of Mac OS file‑sharing over Internet‑standard protocols to anyone, on any platform, with a browser" — but this is no longer leading‑edge technology: it's 'me too' technology.

Mac OS 8 will include the QuickTime Media Layer (QTML) technologies: QuickTime 2.5 with MPEG software decompression (on Power‑PCs); QuickTime VR 2.0; associated graphics extensions such as QuickDraw 3D 1.5; and QuickDraw GX. This is all consolidation rather than anything new.

Try as I might to find the silver lining in this, Mac OS 8 looks rather too much like yet another System 7.5, System 7.6 bug‑fix, rework and repackaging, albeit this time with a new appearance. Although this brings in much‑needed money to Apple each time, I'm not seeing compelling reasons to upgrade. Or at least, until I buy a piece of software that requires an operating system update, I have no major reason to take the plunge. But with some digital audio programs already requiring 7.6.1, the writing may well be on the wall for my only recently upgraded 7.5.5 system. Perhaps the recent upheavals at Apple are making me cynical, but this does not feel like the same Apple that I've evangelised about for the last 10 years. There again, there's plenty happening in MIDI and audio on the Mac to distract me! Why worry about temporary glitches in Apple's fortunes when there's music and money to be made?

On The Net

Apple News In Brief

  • POWERBOOK 1400
    New PowerBook 1400 series models will include a 166MHz 603e processor version, as well as larger disk drives (up to 2Gb), bigger L2 caches (128K) and faster CD‑ROMs (8x).
    Although it has been available in Japan since May, the PowerBook 2400c may finally get released in the rest of the world. The result of a collaboration between Apple and IBM Japan, the high‑end PCI‑based PowerBook 2400c has a 180MHz 603e processor, 256K level 2 cache, 16Mb RAM, 1.3Gb IDE hard drive, 10.4‑inch (diagonal) active‑matrix diagonal colour display, two PCI card slots, built‑in audio and 16‑bit stereo sound recording and playback; and built‑in ports for 16‑bit video out, ADB, SCSI, Serial, and FDD connectors. It measures 10.5 x 8.4 x 1.9 inches, and weighs just 4.4 pounds.