Apple Computer is introducing its first fundamentally new operating system (OS) since System 1.0, which powered the first Macintosh computers in 1984.
Any really new OS is a milestone event. An operating system is the master control program that coordinates a computer's functions. It also creates the "desktop" or graphical user interface screen that gives access programs, determines a computer's user-friendliness and other features.
A new OS is to a computer what a basically new engine and driver control system is to a car. Apple's previous operating systems have included features just as revolutionary as a car that requires no steering wheel.
Remember, Apple introduced the mouse and the icon-style screen that allows users to access the computer by clicking on buttons. At the same time, users of the other main genre of home and business computers - so-called IBM-compatible machines - had to keyboard arcane commands to their computers.
Apple's operating systems - improved little by little over the years with upgrades - often have been light-years ahead of the Windows-type OSs, made by the Microsoft Corp.
The new OS X (a Roman numeral meant to be pronounced "10") continues the tradition. A few hours of using a "beta," or final test version of the system, left me whistling in admiration. Nice. Slick. Futuristic. Advanced. Cool. Something I'd love to use on my own desktop and laptop computers - rather than Windows Me and Windows 98.
But that's not possible. Like nine out of every 10 other computer users in the world, I don't own a Mac. I use the IBM-compatible machines with Windows operating systems. Apple now accounts for only 3.4 percent of the global computer market, according to International Data Corporation figures.
So don't expect even a fraction of the fanfare that accompanied introduction of Windows 95, which was the Microsoft's Corp.'s last fundamentally new OS for home computing. The customers, and the consumer interest, just aren't there.
Too bad, because Mac OS X is packed with wonderful features, visible on the new interface and hidden inside its "code," or instructions that tell a computer how to work.
The new user interface, for instance, is a visually stunning background screen called Aqua, which has a translucence, and depth of color, that almost looks like a fluid in motion.
One of the new OS X features, located at the bottom of the screen, is "The Dock." It's home port for all the clickable icons that give instant access to frequently used programs and files, as well as minimized windows. Unlike Windows icons, however, they provide useful visual feedback about the programs and files they represent. An image file shortcut, for instance, shows the image in a preview mode. You know what's there without opening the file. Minimize a QuickTime movie, and it keeps playing in the icon.
OS X also includes powerful new graphics technologies.
Not visible is the center, or "kernel," of the operating system, based on the "industrial-strength" Unix operating systems used in most business and scientific computers and noted for its stability. OS X is the first consumer-oriented computer with a Unix foundation.
Take heart, Windows users! Microsoft will eventually copy many of the Mac innovations, just as it did early Mac OS features like the graphical user interface and mouse.
Mac OS X will start appearing on Apple's products, and also will be sold as an upgrade. The program is available on a CD-ROM 24 for $129 at Apple's store on the Internet (www.apple.com/store). The CD-ROM also includes OS 9.1 for running programs not yet optimized for OS X.