Mac OS 8.5: The must-have upgrade

Federal Macintosh aficionados have another reason to stay loyal to the Apple Computer Inc. desktop platform: a new operating system. With Mac OS 8.5, which was released last month, Apple is offering speedier performance as well as improved file searching and broader network support.

In fact, federal Mac users are calling the decision to upgrade to 8.5 a "no-brainer."

"I'd swear on a stack of Bibles that [Mac OS 8.5] is four times faster," said Mark Miller, a senior systems engineer at the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center Information Systems Department. "Anybody that has an iMac should get 8.5."

"Its speed is impressive," agreed Scott Weininger, a network engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. "Someone sent me a large Word document, and I accidentally hit Print. It printed so fast that the printer was spewing out pages. I haven't seen that type of printing ever on a Mac."

We tested Mac OS 8.5 on a 300 MHz Power Macintosh G3 and found the performance enhancements worth the upgrade. However, not all Mac users can take advantage of the software. Mac OS 8.5 doesn't support 68K-based Macs, Mac-based clones or systems with PowerPC processor upgrade cards.

With Mac OS 8.5, a majority of the code is now native PowerPC code. For example, AppleScript, the scripting language used for automating tasks under the Mac OS, was updated to pure PowerPC native code, which resulted in fivefold performance increases over previous versions. In addition, Apple optimized existing code, such as Process Manager and Open Transport, for better performance.

Mac OS 8.5 also boasts new features, such as Sherlock, an advancement to the tired Find utility. Sherlock lets you index your local or network drives and search the drives for files using natural-language queries. After you submit a query, Sherlock will provide matches ranked by relevance. This means you can search the text of multiple files at once without actually opening them. Sherlock also provides summaries for each match.

Sherlock also can be configured to search and return results from popular Internet sites. By downloading and adding plug-ins to Sherlock, you can search sites ranging from Yahoo! and HotBot to CNN Interactive and Amazon.com. Check out the Sherlock plug-in page at www.apple.com/sherlock/plugins.html.

Another new feature makes jumping between applications easier. Using the Command-Tab keys on a Mac OS 8.5-based system, you can easily switch between running applications. (This is similar to the Alt-Tab key function on Windows-based PCs.) The new Mac OS also provides an Application Switcher, which displays a floating palette of open applications and their icons. By clicking on an icon, you can change between the running applications - another Windows-like feature.

Another plus for end users is the new direct printing feature, which lets you easily drag and drop a file to the printer without having to open the application that created it.

In addition to Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator and Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer Web browsers, Apple has included Microsoft's Outlook Express e-mail client with Mac OS 8.5. Outlook Express supports the POP, SMTP, IMAP and LDAP e-mail protocols and can be scripted via AppleScript.

Improved Networking

Mac OS 8.5 ships with the latest version of Open Transport 2.0.1, the Mac OS networking architecture that supports AppleTalk, TCP/IP and third-party protocol stacks. Version 2.0.1 provides improved performance and stability over previous versions. In particular, Open Transport has been improved for 100 megabits/sec Ethernet network environments utilizing TCP/IP.

Open Transport's support for the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol has been enhanced to correct a number of issues, including incompatibilities with Microsoft's Windows NT DHCP servers. This improvement will be popular with network administrators who monitor dynamically generated IP addresses for Macs and PCs.

"Now you can see the name of the Mac in the DHCP list. That helps us track things down," Miller said. "Now we have an idea where a Mac might be."

Another problem that has been resolved is retaining TCP/IP leases across multiple machine reboots. This prevents machines from receiving multiple dynamically generated IP addresses during a day when a single system has been booted more than once.

Open Transport 2.0.1 now includes support for the Simple Network Management Protocol with Management Information Base II support - a plus for agencies managing large installations of Mac OS-based systems through centralized management consoles.

Also in Mac OS 8.5, Apple Remote Access (ARA) 2.0 and Open Transport Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) have been combined to form Apple Remote Access 3.0. The new ARA 3.0 uses native Open Transport interfaces and runs natively on PowerPC-based computers for improved performance. ARA 3.0 also supports the open PPP standard and can be configured to connect to multiple-protocol PPP servers. And ARA 3.0 is scriptable via the AppleScript programming language.

Also, Apple has introduced the Network Browser navigation tool in Mac OS 8.5. Now navigating network zones, servers and volumes is as easy as browsing through your hard drive using the Finder.

Look for easier Internet setup and configuration with the new Internet Control panel, which lets you enter all your preferences. With the Internet Control panel, all your Internet-based applications can have centralized access to information such as your e-mail address, your default home page Uniform Resource Locator, your default Web browser and your default news server. You also can create groups of Internet settings and easily switch between them.

The networking enhancements are a boon to federal Mac shops. "Apple cleaned up the networking protocols inside Mac OS 8.5, and that boosted performance significantly," said Charles Heizer, the hot line help-desk tech lead at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Heizer said his group is running Mac OS 8.5 on PowerPC Macs connected to a 10Base-T network that connects to Windows NT and Unix servers. "The Macs running Mac OS 8.5 really interact very well with the [servers.]"

Clone Problems

On the downside, several bugs have been reported on popular Mac-based World Wide Web sites since the recent release of the new OS. The most fearful has been the hard drive "kiss of death" bug. Apparently, users with clone-based Mac OS-based systems have experienced hard disk data loss after upgrading to Mac OS 8.5. A spokesperson for Apple said the company was aware of the reported bugs but had yet to confirm them.

As with any major OS upgrade, we recommend first backing up your critical data. Before installing, be sure to review the Mac OS 8.5 installation tech note at til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n58130. You also may want to check on Apple's Web site or the Web site of your clone manufacturer for updated information on compatibility issues.

-- Marshall is the information systems manager at FCW Media Group. He can be reached at john_marshall@fcw.com.

REPORT CARD

Mac OS 8.5

Apple Computer Inc.

(408) 996-1010

www.apple.com

Price and Availability: A CD-ROM of Apple's Mac OS 8.5 is available direct from CompUSA Inc. for $100. For more information, call (800) 266-7872 or visit its Web site at www.compusa.com.

Remarks: Even with the few bugs in the product, we found Mac OS 8.5 to be a must-have upgrade, considering the number of performance enhancements. From a revamped AppleScript to a tuned-up Open Transport networking system, the new OS will draw out more horsepower in your PowerPC-based system.

Final Score: Excellent

BY John Marshall
Nov. 23, 1998

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