Windows 3.1






Windows 95


Windows 2000




System 8


System 8, 8.5 has some problems


third party hard drives


clone computers


8.5 will not quit


wait...end of January


System X




Macintosh Operating System 8.5

FTLComm - Tisdale - December 2, 1998

For those of you who are readers of Ensign and users of Macintosh computers this article is intended to help you with the ever changing world of operating systems. If you are a PC user you might find this article informative because unlike Microsoft which updates its operating system only every three years the Mac system changes at least every six months and has done since 1986. This ever changing and progressive movement taxes the user, but it also guarantees continued development and one of the direct results is that Mac users tend to keep their software more up-to-date then do PC users, if they upgrade their system they often have no choice.

The basic system that allows you to use a computer is the operating system. For the early computer user there was only one interface and that was DOS (Disk Operating System) which meant that they user had to use the directory of the floppy or later, the hard drive in order to find the application he or she was about to use and the document on which they were going to work. Apple changed all of that in 1980 when it began serious work on a graphics system of interfacing with the computer. They borrowed the concept from Xerox who had been working on an advanced system for some years but had no plans to market their method of using their own equipment in the Palo Alto PARC experimental operation. What came out of that was the Lisa operating system.

Lisa was a complex $10,000 computer system that used a 32 bit processor made by Motorola and it was from it that Apple developed the Macintosh. However, even before the Mac Apple introduced the "mouse" and a simple graphics interface for the Apple //e machines then based the Apple //gs on this same concept. When the Macintosh came along the operating system was well established and had been tested and used for over three years. Since then Macintosh users only used "windows" there was no other means of communicating with their computer because it started up with the graphics interface and that simply was that.

Early business computers were based on Christianson's simple DOS command structure in its earliest form we consumers knew as CPM. Microsoft purchased this operating system, its owner Bill Gates who had indeed worked on similar less efficient systems claimed to be its creator and then every business computer came with it and a bit of money from every machine went into Bill Gate's pocket. DOS was nasty and required high input from the user to know how to get the computer to work. Gates tried to get Apple to license the Apple operating system but they would not make a deal so Microsoft set to work creating its copy which went through several evolutions before it finally was fit to market as Windows 3.1 which was a workable system though extremely primitive Windows 95 was hammered together based on 3.1 and gained a good deal of acceptance though few computer users adopted it, instead it only gained a market share because it came on new machines so when people upgraded they got what came with the machine.

In the Apple Macintosh world, the situation was vastly different. The history and legacy of only working in a graphics environment meant that they operating system was remarkably solid and increasing in its capabilities. To compare the two would be to see Windows 95 as something similar in capability to the 1986 Macintosh operating system with the one exception of it being in colour as the early mass marketed Macs were black and white screened machines.

In the Macintosh world the most successful early operating system was 6.0.7 and its popularity was largely because it came on one of the most popular and widely sold machines the little chunky black and white Classic which sold for $1,000. But the big jump in capability came in 1991 with the widespread distribution of System 7. System 7 was an operating system that allowed every computer on a network to be a server thus facilitating network capability beyond most people's imagination. It was however a major departure from early versions of the operating system and before long the bugs began to emerge and 7.1 an upgrade to the basic system solved most of the problems and is still widely used as it was the system that came installed on the very popular LC 475 which was at its time the perfect office workstation.

In the years that followed System 7 would be modified time after time with 7.5.5 being probably the most stable and durable and 7.6.1 being the last of its series and the system high end for all 68000, 68020, 68030 and 68040 based Macintoshes. These were mature operating systems and will continue to be used for the life of the computers of the early 90s. Each successive operating system upgrade cleaned up the bugs that were found in earlier systems and advanced new concepts were introduced each time an upgrade was produced.

Microsoft took a much different approach the 50,000 or so bugs in Windows 95 are all there and the user just needs to know that this or that operation will result in an unpleasant crash. Windows 98 was introduced on time, three years later with modifications and bug fixes for Windows 95 but because it advanced the operating system it carries with it inherent problems. Microsoft has stopped work on follow on software to this line of operating systems and devotes all of its energy to fixing Windows NT. Windows NT (NT indicates network) was designed to meet military standards and is essentially the Mac equivalent of the Macintosh System 7 which appeared in 1991. However, NT has some outstanding capabilities and it is appropriate that Microsoft drop development on the consumer operating system and concentrate on NT to make it the only operating system it will market. To show this switch in direction Windows NT has been renamed Windows 2000 to indicate that it will replace 98 and NT.

The introduction of the IBM/Motorola designed RISC PowerPC processor based Macintosh and IBM computers in the 94 meant that there needed to be a change in operating systems. IBM had a handy dandy operating system called OS/2 which could utilise the processor but Apple's operating system struggled to get the speed that the PowerPC chip could produce. It was not until the release of System 8 that a reasonable amount of the basic command structure would run in the simpler and faster mode but this system was not as stable as many would have liked and Apple's best operating system ever was released making OS 8.1 the killer operating system. It was faster then all earlier systems on the same hardware and had a load of excellent new features that increased its ease of use. IBM's OS/2 though a very good system was choked by Microsoft and the reluctance for developers to create applications that would use both the simpler RISC processor and IBM's graphical user interface.

This brings us to the present. If you have read this article closely you have noticed that each time Apple introduces a new departure in its operating system as in System 7 and System 8 they have almost immediately had to come out with an update to fix the new bugs that are part of that system. Microsoft with its extreme wealth can avoid and ignore this process, its software has the same accumulation of errors but the upgrade process is set at three years and that simply is that. OS 8.5 is at least 13% faster then System 8.1 which was more then 13% faster then 8 but like System 8, 8.5 has some problems.

The problems are not so great a deterrent that an experienced Mac user would not be able to handle but for schools and businesses with many people who only know their applications and can not afford to spend time tinkering with the System 8.5 would be best avoided. Some of the know problems with 8.5 were built into it from the very beginning by Apple so that we should not be surprised that they are causing problems. 8.5 was designed to allow the user to reformat the hard drive into a more efficient manner creating smaller minimum file sizes and greater access speeds but by doing this third party hard drives and all of those licensed clone computers we sold will have some problems. Interestingly enough this same problem also applies to Apple's own PowerBook line which are themselves different enough for the hard drive problem to appear. Were this the only problem we would be laughing but with only a month since people began installing 8.5 some other little unpleasantness is surfacing. Many anomalies are related to design approaches by Apple while others are simply those bugs that exist in programming structures that result in unusual situations. For example 8.5 will not quit, when you go to restart the computer it does nothing, or worse yet crashes in the process. Users who moved to 8.5 to get the speed it presents are disappointed because the stability they had in 8.1 is now a thing of the past. Some users maintain that if you install 8.5 in what is called a "clean" install and watch carefully the extensions you install it will be even more stable then 8.1. However, for most people that will not be the case as they have extensions and applications that they use or have used that linger on and the process of tinkering it terribly time consuming.

The bottom line for Mac users is wait, we expect a great clean up and fix up upgrade at the end of January and then would be a good time to install 8.5 with the new upgrade on top of it to fix the oddities.

Now if you are a PC user and have worked your way through this article you will wonder about Windows 98 and indeed it also has similar problems as Mac OS 8.5. But for you folks you are stuck because Microsoft has closed the development door on that software. The new Windows software is three long years away.

Because the present Mac OS 8.5 still runs very old Macintosh software it still is not fully utilising the capabilities of the PowerPC processor and Apple has developed a new application called "Carbon" which will be used to convert older software to run on that processor and in the summer of 1999 Apple will introduce its evolved next big step in operating software System X. System X (ten) is largely based on the NeXT Mach I kernel which is essentially a form of UNIX. Although it might sound like System X is just a renamed version of what was to be Rhapsody it is quite a different thing. Certainly it will have many of the NeXT features as that legacy in architecture will indeed show through but it will also be much closer linked to the present and past Mac OS systems. Rhapsody was developed to be a dual operating system with pure PowerPC applications and older style applications running in different modes. With everything drives down the same multilane highway.