Enterprise Software

Introducing Mac OS X: A first look

Have your eyes set on Macintosh's OS X? Curious about the UNIX/Mac marriage? Ponder no more, as Schoun Regan gives you the scoop on Apple's newest darling.


Apple Computer and the Macintosh have plenty to offer. One of the latest offerings will be unveiled on March 24, 2001, when they release their new operating system, Mac OS X (pronounced 10). I'd like to give non-Mac users a preview of what is sure to be yet another groundbreaking development for the computer company.

After unveiling OS X in October of last year, Apple put more than 125,000 beta copies of OS X in the hands of people who wanted an early look. As a result, some 75,000 comments were sent to Apple, and the company responded with additional features and fixes to make OS X a truly unique and fantastic product.

OS X and Darwinism
OS X is based on Darwin, an open-source collaboration between Apple and, well, the world. OS X is a variant of UNIX and therefore has a kernel. The recipe for Darwin is a generous helping of the Mach 3.0 kernel with a dash of FreeBSD 3.2 thrown in for stability. The fact that it's UNIX is not surprising. Steve Jobs wanted something that looked and felt like a Mac, performed like a Cray supercomputer, and was rock solid. Thus evolved Darwin.

Sitting on top of Darwin is a trio of display options that will make you shiver with anticipation. Go ahead and laugh but listen to this: Take native QuickTime, Open GL, and Quartz, and then allow developers to pick and choose which tools they'd prefer. Since they all sit atop Darwin, they are all accessed natively and can be called independently of one another. QuickTime, adopted as an industry standard, can view and play a multitude of video and audio formats. Open GL offers industry-supported 2-D and 3-D interfaces for games and applications. Quartz is the new king of the hill when it comes to PostScript. Quartz is based on PDF, which allows OS X users to save, embed, and manipulate PDF files natively; and it offers antialiasing capabilities, translucency, and icon and image resizing. Quartz allows you to increase or decrease the size of an image while maintaining its sharpness and crispness. You have to see Quartz in action, though, to fully understand its capabilities. Now, whether you realize it or not, that tingle on the back of your neck is the beginning of something new for you: an awakening from the Microsoft-dominated software world. Doesn’t it feel good?

Sitting on top of the display set is another triple-header. Apple calls this the Framework layer. It consists of three development platforms: Classic, Carbon, and Cocoa. Again, developers have a choice of how to create their applications, and you couldn't pick a better trio.

Let's start with Classic. As most Mac users know, Mac OS 9.1 is the current operating system software for the Macintosh. Under OS X, users wanting to run all their current applications and continue on with their daily lives will be able to do so under Classic. When OS X starts, users are given a choice of how to launch applications. Currently, when a Mac starts up, it launches the Finder (most non-Mac users know this as the desktop). OS X also launches the Finder, only from within a Classic window. This design allows OS X users to open multiple Classic windows to run a variety of tasks. A crash in Classic will not affect the rest of OS X—it will continue to chug right along. Windows NT has long had protected memory, and now it's Apple's turn at this feature. So for developers, Classic is nothing more than OS X running everything they already own in a protected window, while they scurry to rebuild their applications in Carbon.

Carbon is the second platform. Developers building applications in Carbon can take full advantage of the Display layer, using any of the three display options they choose. Carbon is the interface that uses current Mac APIs that have been slightly modified for OS X. Carbon utilizes memory allocation differently and essentially introduces protected memory to Macs (finally!).

Cocoa is the third platform—it’s a way for developers to implement Java and Object C applications. Cocoa is the highest level for developers to reach and takes full advantage of OS X's core.

So far, I’ve covered three layers: Darwin, the Display layer, and the Framework layer. The fourth and top layer is what pushes this operating system over the top. Called Aqua, this interface takes full advantage of Quartz, allowing for transparent objects, smoothly flowing graphics, and icons that can be displayed at 128x128 pixels and look like glass. The interface includes many new features that users will find extremely beneficial and (gasp!) fun. Aqua invites users into a world of stunning icons, concise menus, and an almost Zen-like clarity.

UNIX/Apple marriage
OS X is designed around the user but formed for the developer. It is based on open source with a variety of options for graphics, frameworks, and protocols. The UNIX/Apple marriage is significant for several reasons. First, it gives users the power of UNIX—arguably the most secure, well-designed, and versatile operating system out there today—combined with the Mac interface. Second, because it is open source, the only truly closed operating systems now are those from Microsoft. Third, its options are its strength. Fourth, UNIX-heads will love the fact that they can dismiss Apple's Aqua interface and open a shell for direct access to the kernel.

Figure A shows the OS X desktop. The Dock appears at the bottom of the screen, with an open window on the left and an information box in the center. The icons to the right are totally resizable and illustrate CDs, hard drives, network drives, and folders.

Figure A
Here you see Apple's desktop arena for Mac OS X.


Conclusion
While this Daily Drill Down is based on the beta copy, I expect great things from the full release of OS X. In a future Daily Drill Down, I will cover protocols, fonts, printing, and more. Wait until you see OS X for yourself—you may just decide to get a Macintosh!

Here are some links to more information on OS X:
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