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Introduction > What Mac OS X Gives You

What Mac OS X Gives You

These days, a key attraction of the Mac—at least as far as switchers are concerned—is its security features. There isn't yet a single virus that runs in Mac OS X. (Even Microsoft Word macro viruses don't run "correctly" in Mac OS X.) For many people, that's a good enough reason to move to Mac OS X right there.

Along the same lines, there have been no reported sightings of adware (software that displays annoying ads when you use your Web browser) or spyware (malicious software that tracks your computer use and reports it back to a shady company) for Mac OS X. Mail, Mac OS X's built-in email program, deals surprisingly well with spam—the unsolicited junk email that's become the scourge of the Internet.

All About "Tiger"

What's this business about Tiger?

Like Microsoft, Apple develops its wares in secret, giving new products code names to throw outsiders off the scent. Apple's code names for Mac OS X and its descendants all refer to big cats: Mac OS X was Cheetah, 10.1 was Puma, 10.2 was Jaguar, 10.3 was Panther, and 10.4 is Tiger. Apple has even announced that 10.5 (available in late 2006 or early 2007) will be called Leopard.

Usually, software code names are dropped as soon as the products are complete, at which time the marketing department provides the real names. In Mac OS X's case, though, Apple thinks that its cat names are cool enough to retain for the finished product.

It makes you wonder what Apple plans to call future versions. Since Apple only increases the decimal point with each major upgrade, it's got five big cats to go before it hits Mac OS XI.

Let's see: Bobcat, Cougar…um…Ocelot?

If you ask the average person why the Mac isn't overrun by viruses and spyware, as Windows is, they'll probably tell you, "Because the Mac's market share is too small for the bad guys to write for."

That may be true (although 25 million machines isn't too shabby, as targets go). But there's another reason, too: Mac OS X is a very young operating system, written only a few years ago, with security in mind. (Contrast with Windows, whose original versions were written before the Internet even existed.) Mac OS X is simply designed better. Its built-in firewall makes it virtually impossible for hackers to break into your Mac, and the system insists on getting your permission before anything gets installed on your Mac. Nothing can get installed behind your back, as it can in Windows.

But freedom from gunkware and viruses is only one big-ticket item. Here are a few other joys of becoming a Mac fan:

  • Stability. You and your Mac may go for years without ever witnessing a system crash. Sure, it's technically possible for Mac OS X to crash—but few have actually witnessed such an event. Rumors of such crashes circulate on the Internet like Bigfoot sightings. (If it ever happens to you, turn promptly to the Appendix.)

    Underneath the shimmering, translucent desktop of Mac OS X is Unix, the industrial strength, rock-solid OS that drives many a Web site and university. It's not new by any means; in fact, it's decades old, and has been polished by generations of programmers. That's precisely why Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his team chose it as the basis for the NeXT operating system, which Jobs worked on during his 12 years away from Apple and which Apple bought in 1997 to turn into Mac OS X.

  • No nagging. Unlike Windows XP, Mac OS X isn't copy-protected. You can install the same copy on your desktop and laptop Macs, if you have a permissive conscience. When you buy a new Mac, you're never, ever asked to type in a code off a sticker. Nor must you "register," "activate," sign up for ".NET Passport," or endure any other friendly suggestions unrelated to your work. In short, Mac OS X leaves you alone.

  • Sensational software. Mac OS X comes with several dozen useful programs, from Mail (for email) to a 3-D, voice-activated Chess program. The most famous programs, though, are the famous Apple "i-Apps": iTunes for working with audio files, iMovie for editing video, iPhoto for managing your digital photos, and so on. You also get iChat, an AOL-compatible instant messaging program that also offers videoconferencing, and iCal, a calendar program. (This book covers the basics of all of them.)

  • Simpler everything. Most applications in Mac OS X show up as a single icon. All of the support files are hidden away inside, where you don't have to look at them. In general, you can remove a program from your Mac just by dragging that one application icon to the Trash, without having to worry that you're leaving scraps behind; there is no Add/Remove Programs program on the Macintosh.

  • Desktop features. Microsoft is a neat freak. Windows XP, for example, is so opposed to your using the desktop as a parking lot for icons, it actually interrupts you every 60 days to sweep all your infrequently used icons into an "Unused" folder.

    The Mac approach is different. Mac people often leave their desktops absolutely littered with icons. As a result, Mac OS X offers a long list of useful desktop features that will be new to you, the Windows refugee.

    For example, spring-loaded folders let you drag an icon into a folder within a folder within a folder with a single drag, without leaving a wake of open windows. An optional second line under an icon's name tells you how many items are in a folder, what the dimensions are of a graphic, and so on. And there's a useful column view, which lets you view the contents of many nested folders at a glance. (You can think of it as a horizontal version of Windows Explorer.)

    When your screen gets cluttered with windows, you can temporarily hide all of them with a single keystroke. If you want to see all the windows on your screen without any of them overlapping, Mac OS X's Exposé feature is your best friend (Section 4.3).

    Apple didn't combine Web searching and disk searching functions into a single, sluggish Search program. Instead, a speedy, system-wide Find command called Spotlight, new in Tiger, is accessible from the menu bar of any program. It searches not just the names of your files and folders, but also the words inside your documents, and can even search your email, calendar, address book, Web bookmarks, and about 100 other kinds of data, all at once.

    Finally, in Tiger, Apple added one of the coolest features ever to grace a computer screen. It's called Dashboard, and it lets you summon dozens of mini-programs—a calculator, weather forecaster, dictionary, and so on—with a single keystroke, and dismiss them just as easily. You can download more of these so-called widgets from the Internet, making it even easier to find TV listings, Google search results, and more, no matter what program you're using at the moment.

  • Advanced graphics. What Mac programmers get excited about is the set of advanced graphics technologies called Quartz (for two-dimensional graphics) and OpenGL (for three-dimensional graphics). For the rest of us, these technologies translate into a beautiful, translucent look for the desktop (a design scheme Apple calls Aqua); smooth-looking (antialiased) onscreen lettering; and the ability to turn any document on the screen into an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file. And then there are the slick animations that permeate every aspect of Mac OS X: the rotating-cube effect when you switch from one logged-in user to another, the "Genie" effect when you minimize a window to the Dock, and so on.

  • Advanced networking. When it comes to hooking up your computer to others, including those on the Internet, few operating systems can touch Mac OS X. It offers advanced features like multihoming, which lets your laptop switch automatically from its cable modem settings to its wireless or dial-up modem settings when you take it on the road.

    If you're not so much a switcher as an adder (you're getting a Mac but keeping the PC around), you'll be happy to hear that Macs and Windows PCs can "see" each other on a network automatically, too. As a result, you can open, copy, and work on files on each other's machines as though the religious war between Macs and PCs had never even existed.

  • Voice control, keyboard control. You can operate almost every aspect of every program entirely from the keyboard—or even by voice. These are terrific timesavers for efficiency freaks. In fact, the Mac can also read aloud any text in any program, including Web pages, email, your novel, you name it. You can even turn the Mac's spoken performance into an MP3 file, ready to transfer to a CD or a music player to enjoy on the road.

  • Full buzzword compliance. You can't read an article about Mac OS X without hearing certain technical buzzwords that were once exclusively the domain of computer engineers: preemptive multitasking, multithreading, symmetrical multiprocessing, dynamic memory allocation, and memory protection, for example.

    What it all adds up to is that Mac OS X is very stable; that a crashy program can't crash the whole machine; that the Macintosh can exploit multiple processors; and that the Mac can easily do more than one thing at once—downloading files, playing music, and opening a program, for example—all simultaneously.

  • A command-line interface. In general, Apple has completely hidden from you every trace of the Unix operating system that lurks beneath Mac OS X's beautiful skin. For the benefit of programmers and other technically oriented fans, however, Apple left uncovered a tiny passageway into that far more complex realm: Terminal, a program in your Applications → Utilities folder.

    This isn't a Unix book, so you won't find much instruction in using Terminal here. Still, if the idea of an all-text operating system gets you going, you can capitalize on the command-line interface of Mac OS X by typing out cryptic commands in the Terminal window, which the Mac executes instantly and efficiently (think DOS prompt, just faster and more useful).

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