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Introduction > Three OSes in One

Three OSes in One

Despite the fact that many individual aspects of the new operating system have been revisited and redesigned to make them simpler, the big Mac OS X picture is actually a bit complex. For the next few years, at least, you'll have to contend with elements of three different operating systems that Apple fused together to make Mac OS X: Something old, something new (and blue), and something borrowed.

  • Unix. As noted above, the very old portion is Unix. (You may also hear the terms Darwin, OpenStep, and NextStep; these are all variations of Unix. NextStep, later renamed OpenStep, was the version adapted by Steve Jobs during his years at NeXT. Much of Mac OS X, in fact, is based on the work done by Jobs and his team at NeXT.)

    Unix is beloved by programmers, it's rock-solid, and it eliminates almost all of the troubleshooting headaches Mac fans once endured. But it's the very antithesis of Macintosh simplicity. Unix couldn't be much more user-hostile: it requires you to type out cryptic commands, for example. The mouse is pretty much irrelevant.

    Fortunately, as noted above, you may never even see it. Apple has almost completely hidden Mac OS X's Unix personality from you, leaving only a few tiny keyholes through which you can peek at it (see Chapter 15).

  • Aqua. What covers up Mac OS X's technical underpinnings is an extremely clean, beautiful operating-system overlay called Aqua. (That's the new and blue part.) This is the look of Mac OS X, in which buttons look like glistening globs of Colgate Very Berry Gel, menus are translucent, and tiny animations seem to make your screen live and breathe.

  • Mac OS 9 (Classic). Only software programs especially written or adapted for Mac OS X benefit from many of Mac OS X's new features, including its stability. This is the bad news about Mac OS X: you need all-new programs to run on it. That's right—you'll have to get upgrades to the new, Mac OS X-tailored versions of Word, Excel, FreeHand, Photoshop, FileMaker, Quicken, and whatever other programs you use.

    That doesn't mean that you can't use the 18,000 existing Macintosh applications, however. The first time you double-click the icon of one these pre-Mac OS X programs each day, you wait about a minute as a special Mac OS 9 emulation program called Classic starts up. In effect, you're running one operating system within another. Your old programs then open, work, and look just as they did in Mac OS 9, but they don't enjoy any of the new Mac OS X features. If a Classic program crashes, for example, the whole Classic bubble crashes (but you still don't have to restart the Mac—just Classic).

    Chapter 5 contains full details about using Classic. For now, resign yourself to the fact that using a Mac OS X, at least for the next couple of years, generally means having to master elements of two different operating systems—the old and the new.

Despite the fact that elements of three different operating systems power Mac OS X, there's no reason to panic. You can safely ignore the Unix part. And even the Mac OS 9 part is transitional. Years from now, when nobody makes anything but Mac OS X-savvy applications, you won't even have to think about the Classic mode.

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