Mac OS X 10.2 Makes Fast Break

Apple speeds up operating system interface performance, integrates compelling open-source features.

Combining a thoughtfully designed user interface with components culled from the open-source community, Apple Computer Inc.s BSD-based Mac OS X 10.2 operating system will probably fit into the mainstream enterprise desktop space better than any other Unix-based system.

The biggest stumbling block facing wider corporate deployment of Mac OS X is that it runs only on Apples PowerPC-based systems, but in eWeek Labs tests of the $129 Mac OS X 10.2, which began shipping in late August, we were impressed with Apples smooth implementation of the open-source Samba Windows file-sharing and Common Unix Printing System components, as well as with the operating systems interface performance improvements.

Current Mac OS X users stand to gain enough from Version 10.2 to make this a must upgrade, and for new Mac OS X users, 10.2 should make their transitions smooth.

One of the most intriguing things in the new operating system is Rendezvous, a networking technology Apple released under its Public Source License, which is intended to forge links among disparate devices with minimal configuration required.

Although support for Rendezvous is currently limited—we could see it in action in Mac OS Xs iChat application—a variety of network printer, consumer electronics and other device and software manufacturers have announced plans to support the technology in their products. As communication technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi spread in the enterprise, Rendezvous has the potential to cut through much of the complexity that these varied technologies carry with them.

Mac OS X 10.2 requires at least 128MB of RAM, but we recommend no less than 256MB. According to Apple, Mac OS X 10.2 should run on current iMac and iBook systems, Power Mac G3 and G4, and all PowerBooks shipped in the last four years. We tested the operating system on an iBook equipped with 256MB of RAM and a 700MHz PowerPC G3 processor.

Major Performance Boost

When Apple introduced Mac OS X 10 last year, the next-generation operating system was both beloved and derided for its eye-candy-engorged (many call it "lickable") Aqua interface. Aquas many visual effects, most of which cannot be disabled, resulted in sometimes sluggish performance, particularly on older hardware.

There were some speed improvements in Mac OS X 10.1, but this latest Mac OS version wrings significantly improved performance out of Aqua, courtesy of Quartz Extreme. This Apple technology offloads rendering of windows and other screen elements onto the graphics processing unit in a systems video card, which in turn lightens the load on the systems main processor.

Quartz Extreme requires 16MB of video RAM and an Nvidia Corp. GeForce2 MX, GeForce3, GeForce4 MX or GeForce4 Ti graphics card or any AGP-based ATI Technologies Inc. Radeon graphics card.

Cross-Apps Usability

Apple hangs its hat on usability, a reputation effectively upheld across the various applications that come bundled with Mac OS X, such as its e-mail client.

The Mac OS mail client supports the POP (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP mail protocols and is most notable for its junk-mail filtering facility. The client attempts to identify junk mail through semantic analysis; said messages are then highlighted.

Of 50 messages we pulled down from one of our POP accounts, 30 were junk. The Apple mail client caught about 25 of these without aid from us. One nonjunk message was wrongly singled out, but we could easily reclassify it by clicking a button on the tool bar. We could also turn off this feature.

In Mac OS X 10.2, the Sherlock 3 utility provides a nice set of Web service applications that bring in information such as movie times, stock quotes and small text translations from the Internet. This is a bit different from Sherlocks former function as a local search utility—a capability now integrated into the Finder.

The Sherlock 3 applications worked well, but wed like to see opportunities for user customization of these services included in a future version.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

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