Mac OS 9 full review

The wait for OS 9 has not been a long one – most people are looking ahead to OS X Client for the next big thing. However, the OS 9 upgrade is by no means a minor one. OS 8.6 was really the last OS to complete what was once the Copeland project.

Offering new features previously unannounced and billed as your Internet co-pilot, OS 9 has Internet goodies – but there are advances in all areas.

One much-demonstrated part of the upgrade is Sherlock 2. When it was first released, it was heralded as a great advance – but at the same time, many people had their ideas on how it could be improved. Those ideas have been put into action, and now there are a variety of choices for different search methods.

For instance, if you want to search for a particular book, simply click on the shopping trolley icon. Type in the title, or author, and a search will not only bring up a list of books, but a list sorted by price and availability.

This is a pretty impressive feature, but is not without its drawbacks. First off, the places searched are all US-based – not surprising, as the software we have is the US version. However, there were no differences in the International English version of Sherlock in the past, and I’m not confident that Apple will take the time to make a UK version for Sherlock 2.

If it doesn’t localize Sherlock 2, we are stuck with US vendors and dollar prices. This is not always a bad thing, but is not ideal. I suppose it won’t take long for UK retailers to catch on and produce Sherlock plug-ins for UK shopping. If they aren’t included in the original release, it will probably be down to us to search out the new plug-ins.

Other plug-in sets include a search facility for the Apple Web site, and the Apple Tech Info Library – a handy resource for any Mac enthusiast. Also included are News and Reference searches. These are very useful, but more companies need to get on-board before you would consider using Sherlock alone as a reference, or news, source.

Sherlock 2 is a great tool for finding what you want on the Internet, but it does have some competition. Copernic 99 has just been released, and it’s cross-platform. It works in much the same way as Sherlock, but it isn’t as advanced as Sherlock 2. If Apple wants to keep ahead of the game, it needs to update Sherlock regularly.

Auto updates

If you’re fed up with watching the Internet for updated features for your OS, the new Software Update control panel will make your life easier. It will also please IT managers, with machines updating themselves unattended.

The one unfortunate thing, is that it only updates the OS, not the rest of your software. You can set it to check for new software on a daily basis, and, when it finds some, it will download and install them.

There is nothing worse for an IT manager than working on machines with a dynasty of software versions – from QuickTime 1.5 to 4.0 – simultaneously installed. The Software Update feature will mean this is a thing of the past.

Multiple users

Another major new feature is the Multiple Users option. If you ever share your Mac with others, willingly or otherwise, it is difficult to keep your files separate from other users.

OS 9 lets you log-in to your Mac for normal personal access. When others want to root around your machine, they can log-in as guests or registered users. Now, they will only see the applications or files you want them to see, and they have no reason to complain about how many you have on your Mac.

You can also choose hilarious alert sounds, a hypnotic desktop pattern, a cryptic filing system – or a complete lack of one. When the next person comes to use the machine, it will appear as neat and tidy as a newly scrubbed hard drive.

A happy medium for all concerned, and particularly useful for schools and colleges – or offices with nosy neighbours.

Speak and be heard

The new job of logging-in to your Mac – a bit like a PC (yikes) – is brightened slightly by the Voice Print password. I’m sure that there are legitimate uses for voice passwords, but most people are bound to use this option to impress friends with James Bond-style computing.

To set up the password, you must first record yourself saying a particular phase four times. The default phrase is “My voice is my password”, but that just reminds me of Rowan Atkinson’s mime declaring “My body is my tool”. However, you can change the phrase to whatever you like, as long as it is longer than four or five words.

Perhaps “My name is Bond...James Bond”, or “Open the pod bay doors, Hal”. To be honest, it was five minutes before I became bored with humiliating myself by addressing my Mac. But it was 100 per cent successful; nobody else could log-on pretending to be me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to test this further – with sets of twins or Rory Bremner – but it seemed secure enough for most use.

Lock and Keychain

The Keychain will be familiar to users of System 7.x, but it disappeared in OS 8 – due to lack of interest, apparently. In OS 9, it has been updated, and is now more relevant to Internet-savvy users.

The idea is that the Keychain holds all your passwords, so that when you log-in to any password-protected site or server, the Keychain will unlock it. A single password for the Keychain means that you don’t have to remember dozens of passwords.

My solution to this problem, up to now, has been to use the same password for everything. Obviously, this is not the most secure way of doing business. Now, I can use one password for the Keychain, and different ones for each server.

There is also new encryption used in OS 9, described as "industrial strength". It is not obvious to the user, but should give hackers a run for their money. This is important, because now you will be able to share files over the Internet, increasing to the vulnerability of your Mac.

AppleScript is also now executable over TCP/IP, adding all kinds of remote capabilities for advanced users. Welcome stability I have not had OS 9 installed for long, but it has reduced my number of crashes noticeably.

My relatively new G3 Power Mac has been prone to crashing since I got it. It has been a frustrating time, complicated by the need to constantly install new software. Since installing OS 9, I have crashed only once. I’m not saying that OS 9 will solve all your stability problems, but it has certainly improved mine.

Installation was one of the most painless in recent memory: no error messages, no problems at all. I’m still getting used to the capabilities of OS 9, but, so far, it has been plain sailing.

I have heard that ATM may have compatibility problems, but then ATM needs revamping with every OS version.

There is something in OS 9 to please everybody: for some it will be the major redesign of Sherlock, for others, its high-tech security. However, whenever I look at a new OS, I like to see what is new in the Sound control panel.

OS 9 doesn’t disappoint – with a dozen new sounds. From the intensely irritating baby laugh, to the squeaky toy effect, your alert sounds will be revitalised. This is probably the least important new feature, but no major upgrade is complete without them.

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