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Apple Mac OS X 10.2 for Pros

How the latest Mac OS fares in a creative production environment By Dave Nagel
The latest release of Mac OS X--version 10.2, or "Jaguar"--boasts something like 150 new features and applications. A huge number of these new features are really consumer bait, designed to hook your average Joe McDuh into buying a shiny new iMac or iBook for the kids. But there are also some less-publicized, yet critical improvements for the professional market as well. What kinds of improvements? Is it faster? Is it more stable? Does it have better workflow and functionality? Is it compatible with current Mac OS X apps? And will it make you feel, as Apple claims, that you're getting a whole new computer for $130? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

Mac OS X 10.2 is, broadly speaking, the best Mac OS to date, and, arguably, the best OS to date in all categories that matter for professional users--performance, features, functionality, stability, networking, scripting, support for open standards, color management, audio, graphics and workflow. It has it all, and it's all wrapped up in a package that's easy on the eyes and, admit it, fun to use.

It also happens to be an outstanding example of the way things ought to be in OS engineering. Consider the last two decades of OS development on any platform. Each successive release of an operating system brought more features, to be sure, but also the baggage that goes along with new features, namely shoddier performance despite tremendous advances in hardware.

With Mac OS X, the converse is true. Granted, nobody's going to look at the first commercial release of Mac OS X and say, "That's how it should be." No way. It was slow and lacked essential functionality. But with each successive release, through the present, it's not only added more and more features--now to the point that it exceeds the features of Mac OS 9--but it's also gained tremendously in the critical area of performance. I can now say, without reservation, that Mac OS X performs better on any given piece of hardware than any recent release of the Macintosh operating system.

In other words, you get more, and you get to do it faster. All of this on top of the prime selling point for Mac OS X in the first place: rock-solid stability.

Performance in 10.2
Now what do I mean when I say it keeps getting faster and faster? I'm talking, really, about everything--from display performance to application performance, all the way down to boot speed. It's just faster overall.

In terms of boot times, it now takes Mac OS X 10.2 about 50 seconds to boot from chime to Finder on a dual 1 GHz G4. (Ten seconds from the time to Mac OS X splash screen appears.) And, unlike previous versions of Mac OS X, it's ready to go the second the Finder draws itself. OS 9.2, in contrast, takes 113 seconds to boot on the same machine and is not ready to go as soon as the Finder draws itself onscreen. In fact, at 50 seconds, Mac OS 9 is only just starting to load Extensions.

And then there's the interface. I have no way of quantifying the speed increase on the Interface, but suffice to say that it's smooth and far more responsive than previous Mac OS X interfaces and feels, as it were, about as responsive as Mac OS 8 or 9. There's no stuttering of windows when sending an open document to the Dock. Files and folders draw instantly. And interface effects render quickly and smoothly.

You can chalk up this improvement to Quartz Extreme, which offloads the interface and compositing tasks to the graphics card via OpenGL rather than burdening the CPU with the chore.

This also leads to the most important performance improvement: application performance. With the responsibility for the graphics on the machine handed over to the graphics card, the CPU has more free time to handle processor-intensive tasks, such as rendering. In my tests using a variety of creative applications (Photoshop, Combustion, After Effects and others), I've found the time it takes to render projects 10 percent to 15 percent less than in Mac OS X 10.1.5.

There's a little justification for the $130 investment.

Of course, Quartz can't be credited for all of the performance gains. Apple has also continued to bring optimizations to low-level functions and libraries for performance boosts in graphics, audio and video.

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