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Introduction to Mac OS X

Introduction to Mac OS X


Mac OS X ("X" is pronounced "ten"; Figure 1) is the latest version of the computer operating system that put the phrase graphic user interface in everyone's vocabulary. With the slick new look and feel of the Aqua interface and Unix under the hood, Mac OS X is sure to please Mac OS users at any experience level.

Figure 1. The About This Mac window for Mac OS X.

This Visual QuickPro Guide picks up where the Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide leaves off. Written for intermediate to advanced Mac OS users, it goes beyond the basics to cover more advanced topics, such as Unix, networking, multiple users, security, AppleScript, system preferences, fonts, utilities, speech features, and iDisk. The first two chapters should be especially helpful for experienced Mac OS users just getting started with Mac OS X; they explain many of the differences between Mac OS X and Mac OS 9.x and tell you how you can take advantage of the Classic environment to work with application software that wasn't built for Mac OS X.

Like the Visual QuickStart Guide, this book provides step-by-step instructions, plenty of illustrations, and a generous helping of tips. It was designed for page flipping—use the thumb tabs, index, or table of contents to find the topics you want to learn more about.

If you're interested in information about new Mac OS X and Mac OS X 10.1 features, be sure to browse through this Introduction. It'll give you a good idea of what you can expect to see on your computer.


  • If you're brand new to Mac OS and need more basic information about using Mac OS X, check out Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide, the prequel to this book.

  • This book covers Mac OS X 10.1, a revision to the original release of Mac OS X.

New Features in Mac OS X

Mac OS X was a major revision to the Macintosh operating system. Not only did it add and update features, but in many cases, it completely changed the way tasks are done. With a slick new look called “Aqua” (Figure 2) and with preemptive multitasking and protected memory that make the computer work more quickly and reliably, Mac OS X is like a breath of fresh air for Macintosh users.

Figure 2. A look at the new Aqua interface.

Here's a look at some of the new and revised features you can expect to find in Mac OS X.


  • Most of these features are covered in this book and its prequel, Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide.

  • This section discusses the new features in the original release of Mac OS X. New features in Mac OS X 10.1 are covered later in this Introduction.

Installer changes

  • The Mac OS X installer automatically launches when you start from the Mac OS X install CD.

  • The installer offers fewer customization features for installation.

  • The Mac OS X Setup Assistant, which runs automatically after the installer restarts the computer, has a new look and offers several new options.

System changes

  • System extensions and control panels no longer exist.

  • By default, Mac OS X is set up for multiple users, making it possible for several people to set up personalized work environments on the same computer without the danger of accessing another user's files.

  • A new Log Out command enables you to end your work session without shutting down the computer.

  • A new System Preferences application (Figure 3) enables you to set options for the way the computer works.

    Figure 3. The System Preferences application. In Mac OS X 10.1, preferences were organized logically by function, as shown here.

  • The default system font has been changed to Lucida Grande.

  • Finder icons have a new "photo-illustrative" look (Figure 2).

  • A new, customizable Dock (Figure 2) enables you to launch and switch to applications.

Window Changes

  • Finder windows offer a new column view (Figure 4). Button view is no longer available.

    Figure 4. A window in column view. In Mac OS X 10.1, arrows appear to the right of folder names, as shown here.

  • Pop-up windows and spring-loaded folders are no longer supported.

  • Window controls have been changed. The left end of a window's title bar now includes Close, Minimize, and Zoom buttons (Figure 2).

  • Drawers (Figure 5) are subwindows that slide out the side of a window to offer more options.

    Figure 5. The new Mail application utilizes the drawer interface.

  • Document windows for different applications each reside on their own layer, making it possible for them to be intermingled. (This differs from previous versions of Mac OS which required all document windows for an application to be grouped together.)

  • You can often activate items on an inactive window or dialog with a single click rather than clicking first to activate the window, then clicking again to activate the item.

Menu changes

  • Menus are now translucent so you can see underlying windows right through them.

  • Sticky menus no longer disappear after a certain amount of time. When you click a menu's title, the menu appears and stays visible until you either click a command or click elsewhere onscreen.

  • The Apple menu, which is no longer customizable, includes commands that work in all applications (Figure 6).

    Figure 6. The revised Apple menu.

  • A number of commands have been moved to the revised Apple menu (Figure 6) and new Finder menu (Figure 7). There are also new commands and new keyboard equivalents throughout the Finder.

    Figure 7. The new Finder application menu, shown with Mac OS X 10.1 menu commands.

  • A new Go menu (Figure 8) makes it quick and easy to open windows for specific locations, including favorite and recent folders.

    Figure 8. The new Go menu, shown with Mac OS X 10.1 menu commands.

Dialog changes

  • Dialogs can now appear as sheets that slide down from a window's title bar and remain part of the window (Figure 9). You can switch to another document or application when a dialog sheet is displayed.

    Figure 9. A dialog sheet is attached to a window.

  • The Open and Save Location dialogs have been revised.

  • The Save Location dialog can appear either collapsed (Figure 10) or expanded (Figure 11).

    Figure 10. The Save Location dialog box collapsed to show only the bare essentials…

    Figure 11. …and expanded to show everything you need to save a file.

Application changes

  • Applications that are not Mac OS X compatible run in the Classic environment, which utilizes Mac OS 9.1 and later.

  • The list of applications and utilities that come with Mac OS has undergone extensive changes to add and remove many programs.

Help changes

  • Balloon Help has been replaced with Help Tags (Figure 12).

    Figure 12. Help Tags replace Balloon Help.

  • The Help Viewer offers more options for searching and following links.

  • Guide Help is no longer available.

New Features in Mac OS X 10.1

Mac OS X 10.1, the Mac OS X revision released in Autumn of 2001, improves performance and features. Here's a quick summary of some of the changes.

Performance improvements

  • Apple programmers tweaked Mac OS X to make it faster and more responsive. Improved performance is most noticeable when launching applications, resizing or moving windows, displaying menus, and choosing menu commands.

  • OpenGL, which is responsible for 3D graphics, is 20 percent faster. It also has full support for the nVidia GeForce 3 graphics card.

Finder & Aqua enhancements

  • The columns in the Finder's list views can be resized by dragging the column border (Figure 13).

    Figure 13. You can now change a column's width by dragging its border.

  • Long file names in the Finder's icon view wrap to a second line (Figure 14).

    Figure 14. In icon view, long document names wrap to a second line.

  • Arrows now appears to the right of folder names in the Finder's column view (Figure 4). This makes it easy to distinguish between folders and files in column view.

  • File name extensions are turned off by default. You can display the extension for a file by setting an option in its Info window (Figure 15) or in the Finder Preferences window (Figure 16).

    Figure 15. The Name & Extension options in a document's Info window.

    Figure 16. You can use Finder Preferences to specify whether file extensions should show.

  • You can now customize the Dock to display it on the left, right, or bottom of the screen.

  • The new Burn Disc command makes it quick and easy to create data CDs from within the Finder (Figure 17).

    Figure 17. The Finder's File menu now includes a Burn Disc command.

System Preferences improvements

  • The System Preferences pane's icons are now organized logically by use (Figure 3).

  • The Desktop preferences pane, which is brand new in Mac OS X 10.1, enables you to set a desktop picture (Figure 18). (This functionality was moved from Finder Preferences.)

    Figure 18. You can use the new Desktop preferences pane to choose a background image.

  • The General preferences pane now enables you to set how many Recent Items should appear on the Apple menu. It also enables you to set a font size threshold for the font smoothing feature (Figure 19).

    Figure 19. The General preferences pane now enables you to specify how many Recent Items should appear on the Apple menu.

  • The Sound preferences pane enables you to select different settings for each output device.

  • The Date & Time preferences pane enables you to display the menu bar clock as an analog clock.

  • You can now display controls for a variety of System Preferences right in the menu bar (Figure 20). You specify whether you want to show or hide the controls in the applicable preferences pane.

    Figure 20. You can add menus for controlling various preferences. This example shows Modem, Displays, Sound, and Date & Time (the menu bar clock) options.

Printing improvements

  • Mac OS X 10.1 ships with over 200 PostScript printer description files, including files from Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark, and Xerox.

  • In most cases, the driver for a USB printer will automatically be selected when the printer is added to the Print Center.

Networking improvements

  • Mac OS X is now more compatible with network systems, including AppleShare, Windows NT, Windows 2000, and SAMBA.

  • Mac OS X 10.1 now fully supports AirPort, with the AirPort Admin Utility and the AirPort Setup Assistant.

Application improvements

  • Mac OS X 10.1 includes Java 2 for up-to-date Java compatibility.

  • Internet Explorer 5.1 fully supports Java within the Web browser.

  • iTunes now includes CD burning capabilities so you can create music CDs from your iTunes libraries.

  • The new DVD Player application enables you to watch DVD movies on computers with DVD-ROM drives or SuperDrives.

  • iDVD 2 includes many enhancements for creating your own DVD discs on SuperDrive-equipped Macs, including background encoding.

  • AppleScript is now fully supported by Mac OS X. In fact, the Mac OS X 10.1 Finder is more scriptable than ever.

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