OS X Journal: 25 OS X tips for OS 9 Users


Week 8

Last week's column was well received and also brought up some more questions. So we'll be extending the getting-to-know OS X series a little. This week, we'll take a look at using OS X as an OS 9 user.

As you surely can guess, OS X is different than OS 9. The operating systems have many things in common, but do similar things differently. This is one stumbling block for existing users going over to Mac OS X. Some OS X features can be found in similar places, and others have been combined, while others still have been split off. This week we'll look at some of these functions and feel our way through our new OS.

Here then are 25 tips for Mac OS 9 users using Mac OS X. As usual I certainly have missed some items and left out some details. As always feel free to utilize the comments at the bottom.

Tip #1 - Evaluate your needs

Before we even dive into Mac OS X, lets see if it can do what we need. I know a year ago, OS X couldn't do what I needed. Everyone's needs are different and it'd be wise to seriously consider if you can use OS X. I'd recommend thinking about all the things you do in OS 9, and see if it can be done in OS X. are there an OS X versions of your favorite programs? Are there alternatives to those programs not updated? If there are no OS X options, can you effectively use Classic until something does become available? Are there drivers to support your hardware? And oh, yeah... does your computer match up to Apple's OS X specs?

Don't get upset if you jump into OS X headfirst and find out your AppleTalk printer doesn't work or that old HyperCard recipe program won't run. If you're an existing Mac user with existing software and hardware, migrating to OS X is a choice. You can't assume everything will be OK. New users have the luxury of buying a new computer, new peripherals and software, which will more likely be compatible than what the old-timers are using.

Tip #2 - Update your hardware

Ok, now we know that we can use OS X to do what we have always done in OS 9. Now can we do it well? You may need to think about getting a second or bigger hard drive. In all likely hood, you're going to be installing a lot of new software on your computer, in addition to OS X itself, which can measure 1-2 GB. You definitely need lots of memory. Probably more the better. 512 MB would be a good starting point. Also, check out your video card. If you have at least a Rage 128 ATI card or any nVidia, you should be OK. ATI Rage Pro and below, you'll need to upgrade. If you're using an iMac or Power/iBook with Rage Pro or lower, you'll probably be in for a disappointment. You'll also want to look at your CPU. I'm not too sure where the realistic floor for performance is, but I'd be reluctant to run OS X on anything below 400 MHz.

Tip #3 - Setup

I'd recommend reformatting a hard drive and making two volumes, one for OS 9 and one for OS X. This is the best way to organize your computer, separating the OS X stuff from OS 9. This is particularly helpful if you plan to jump back into OS 9 once in a while. OS X installs numerous invisible files and directories, and you won't want to disturb them in OS 9 where they are visible. Your best bet is to use HSF+ and give ample room for your OS X volume to grow. You may also want to consider making a swap disk for your virtual memory files. (See below).

Tip #4 - Swap Disk

I've been playing around with the separate swap disk idea. What you do is make a separate volume for OS X to use as its virtual memory storage. The idea is, this volume will always be in optimal condition to make virtual memory usage as fast as possible. This is purely optional, but now is probably the time to make the swap drive if you're going to do it. If you decide to do it later on, you may need to clear your main drive and start over to set up the swap volume. Generally 500 MB seems to be an adequate size, enough for six swap files. I plan to cover the swap file idea in greater detail in a later column.

Tip #5 - OS X Installation

When installing OS X you have a couple options. I would recommend doing the BSD install, which includes the Unix applications and servers. You may also want to do the Developer Tools, as it includes software you may need to install some Unix applications. I believe you can add it later, but I'm not sure what would happen if an OS X update updated something on the Developer Tools and you decided to do the Developer Tools install at a later date, missing the OS update. Basically if you have the hard drive space, I'd say do the Developer Tools to be on the safe side.

Tip #6 - Enabling Root

So now you have OS X installed. One of the first things you should do is enable the root account. There are two reasons for this. First, you may need it to modify the system or install some software. The second more important reason is it's a backup account. As you're probably aware, "root" is the superuser account in OS X. Root can do anything, where users and administrators and limited in the damage they can do. By enabling root, you'll be able to log in as root if something goes wrong with your main account (like a forgotten password) and fix things up.

To setup your root account, go into Applications/Utilities/NetInfo Manager. Go under Domain, select Security-Authenticate. Type in your user password, then go back into Security-Authenticate, and select Enable Root User. It should ask you for a password, and you're set.

The last step is that you'll want to go into your System Preferences and select the Login panel. Select Login Window, and select "Show 'Other User' in list for network users." This will allow you to log in as root from the log in window. After selecting Other User at the login, type in root and your password and you'll log into OS X under root. As a side note, you will also be able to log in as root from the Terminal, which is described below.

Tip #7 - OS X Folders

One key difference in OS X is the layout of the folders. Under OS 9, we're used to our hard drive containing a System Folder, Documents and all our personal folders. OS X is different. OS X has folders and files that need to be in specific places. The way I think about it, is my Applications folder is where I do all my customization for where stuff goes. When you think of it this way, there's no need to really look at drive's root directory. See the toolbar shortcuts for a tip. Here's the layout of an OS X drive.

    Applications - Here your applications go. In here, I make subfolders for stuff like MP3s, Digital Video, Web Design etc.

    automount (invisible) - Required by OS X to work -- do not touch.

    Library - The System wide library -- see last week's column for in-depth details of the Library folders.

    mach_kernel (invisible) Required by OS X to work -- do not touch.

    System - The main System components. Also see last week's column for more info.

    Users - Where user data and preferences are stored.

    Developer - Installed through the Developer CD. I haven't tried moving it, but you may be able to put it in your Applications folder.

Tip #8 - Dock

The Dock has numerous functions. Compared to OS 9, it takes on the Application Menu and Launcher functions. You can use it to view running applications, switch between applications and start applications. Basically if there's an arrow under it, the program is running. Stuff can be added to the dock by dragging items into it, or right-clicking on a running program and telling to "Keep in Dock." You can also quit programs, switch windows in programs and also find program locations within the Dock. You can also use the Dock to open documents, such as dragging a text file over the BBEdit icon OS X will open that text file in BBEdit. Finally to remove an item, just click-drag it out of the Dock. Ideally, you'll want to keep only the programs you often use in the Dock, such as Web or email programs.

A few other options for the Dock. You can pin the dock around the screen, either at the bottom, left or right. Personally, I prefer the bottom, as it seems to be a natural place for it. You can also tell the Dock to hide, allowing it to disappear only to pop up when you mouse goes over it. You can also change the size of the dock to keep it out of the way, in addition to magnification, which will blow up when you mouse over. The final option is to change the scaling. Genie is cool, but sucks CPU power. Using the Scale option is a much better choice.

Tip #9 - Folder Shortcuts

You can place folders in the Dock. What I do is I make up a folder, lets say Internet, and place it in the Dock, to the left of the Trash. I then put aliases of my programs in that folder. When you right click on the folder, it pops up in the dock, letting you launch those programs. It's a great way to quickly launch programs, while not cluttering up the Dock with permanent individual items.

Tip #10 - File Browser

The OS X Finder works much differently than the OS 9 Finder. One key difference is the file browser. File windows are more like a Web browser. When you click on a folder, the folder is opened inside the same window and you can then back up using the back key. There are three main views, the typical icon and list views (similar to OS 9) and a new NeXT-like column. Each work well, and like under OS 9, each view has their pros/cons for specific needs.

You can change how the file browser works in some ways. Preferences are available under the Finder menu. One allows you to open folders in a new window, similar to OS 9. You can also tell OS X to open a new window by doing an Apple-double-click on a folder. Personally, while a little awkward, I find I like the OS X browser system better, once I got used to it. It can still be a little awkward copying files/folders between windows/locations, however.

Tip #11 - Toolbar Shortcuts

In the File Browser you have a Toolbar. The Toolbar has customizable shortcuts, letting you jump from place to place. For example, if you want to go to your Applications folder, rather than going through the main hard drive, you can click the shortcut and it'll jump there. Short cuts can be customized through the View menu. Also shortcut folders can be added by dragging a folder into the toolbar. I've found that shortcuts are a key to getting around OS X quickly.

Tip #12 - Home Directory

Each user on OS X has their own Home directory. This was lightly covered last week and worth checking out. In your Home directory, you have settings that are active when you are logged in. Also files and documents can be saved in here, which can include your data from applications, such as email or web browsers and saved files from say a word processor. Ideally, you can keep all your saved work in your user directory. It will secure it if you have multiple users on your system, but also will make backing up easier to do. For the most part, if you back up your user directory, most of your important stuff will be saved. Below are your Home folders and their intended uses.

    Desktop - Your user desktop. Similar to the invisible Desktop folder under OS 9. What's in this folder shows up on your desktop and is different for each user.

    Documents - Email, iTunes playlists and other data can be saved here. This is where you would save your work from applications.

    - Library - Described in detail in last week's column.

    - Movies - For iMovie, iDVD, Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro or for just saving movie files.

    - Music - For iTunes or a place to save music and MP3 files.

    - Pictures - For iPhoto or a place to save digital pictures.

    - Public - Place stuff in this folder if you want other users to be able to access it.

    - Sites - This is where your Web pages come from when Web serving is turned on. Site available at www.youripaddress.com/~

    - Favorites - This is actually in your Library folder. This is a good one to learn. You can setup favorites to help jump around your hard drive from either the desktop or open/save dialog boxes.

Tip #13 - Window Interleaving

Under OS 9, when a window was in the background, you could click on it and it would bring that application and all other windows to the front. Under OS X, when you click on a background window, it only brings that window to the front. This can be a little awkward. If you intend to bring the application and all windows to the front, you can do so by selecting the application in the Dock. Also, DragThing for OS X allows you to change this function so that clicking a background window will bring all windows to the front.

Tip #14 - Keyboard shortcuts

There are numerous keyboard shortcuts in OS X, but I wanted to highlight a just a few. One big difference for me is now Apple-N creates a new file browser, rather than a new folder. Shift-Apple-N creates a new folder. Also, to switch applications in the Dock, Apple-Tab will step through running applications. Also, OS X allows you to cut/past files and folders. If you want to copy files/folders, make your selection, hit Apple-C, then Apple-V where you want to past them. Probably the biggest shortcut is in the Keyboard System Preference. Using Full Keyboard Access you can navigate the Finder using keyboard.

Tip #15 - The Menu Bar

The OS X Menu system has a few changes from OS 9. Most functions are still there, but some are moved around. Below are the main menu options and their functions.

    - Apple: System-level info. Here you can find About this Mac, Restart, Shutdown, Logout, and System Preferences.

    - Application: Information on the running Application. This tells you what application is current in the foreground. There is also About this App, application-specific preferences and settings, hide, OS X Services for the application and quit.

    - Go: Finder Only. Part of the old Chooser can be found here, letting you connect to remote computers for filesharing. You can also use the Go menu to jump to Favorites, iDisk or other spots on your hard drive.

    Menu Bar Apps: The menu bar can hold specific applications, such as clock, volume, airport or display settings. The System Preferences panels usually control these options. You can also add third-party programs to place additional functions in the menu bar.

Tip #16 - Force Quit

Ah yes, the good old force quit. Under OS 9, the term Russian roulette never had a truer place. Under OS X, Force Quit actually works without the good chance of taking down the whole operating system. If an application is misbehaving, go ahead and zap it and don't worry about it. You can do it either from the keyboard with Apple-Option-Esc or under the Apple Menu.

Tip #17 - Useful Apple Utilities

There are enough third-party utilities out there to fill a separate column, so we'll just stick with what Apple gives us.

    - System Profiler: Same as the OS 9 version. Gives detailed info about your computer.

    - Console: Find out what's going on with your computer. Console displays system level events in real time.

    - CPU Monitor: Gives you real time readout of your CPU load. Can be placed in the Dock.

    - Disk Utility: Combines Disk First Aid and Drive Setup under OS 9.

    - Network Utility: Tests your Internet connection, includes useful functions such as ping, traceroute.

    - Print Center: Part Chooser, part Printer Monitor. Go in here to setup your printers and also view print jobs.

    Process Viewer: See what's running on your computer and how much resources apps are taking up.

    - Terminal: Command line interface app. Lets you access the guts of OS X.

    - Internet Connect: Use to setup dialup, similar to Remote Access.

Tip #18 - System Preferences

Once you're up and running under OS X, you should take some time to dig around the System Preferences. Again, some things are the same, while other have been moved. A couple notable items:

    - Login: In here you can setup what Applications you want to startup when you log in. This is similar to the startup folder in OS 9. The second interesting option is the Login Window. You can configure OS X to either require a username/password to login, or to automatically log a user in when you startup.

    In here you can also do some other settings, like noted above, you can select other users for to log in as root or network users. Also you can tell the login window to list the names of local users and also toggle the restart/shutdown buttons in addition to a password hints option.

    Network: In Network, you setup your Internet preferences. You can do dialup, Ethernet and Airport. In here we also find the controls for AppleTalk.

    Internet: Under Internet, we have settings for our iDisk and global settings for email, Web and newsgroups.

    - Keyboard: As noted above, Keyboard lets you set up Full Keyboard Access

    - Sharing controls the built in Web, FTP and SSH services, in addition to filesharing access.

    - Classic controls our Classic environment. Here we can select what volume to use for Classic. A couple tips here: First make sure the OS 9 installation you're using for Classic is stripped down of unneeded extensions/control panels. Only load up what you need to make Classic as fast as possible. Also, under the Advanced settings, I put the "Put Classic to sleep" option to Never.

    - Users: Here we can setup and edit our users. The main options are name, password, login picture.

Tip #19 - Get Info

OS X's Get Info is slightly different than under OS 9. One quick pointer, you only have one Get Info window. To get info on multiple items, you keep the window open and select the individual items. Get Info also includes Privileges, actual name of file, and for documents, preview and open with. Open With is pretty cool. For example, lets say when you double-click .jpg files, you want them all to be opened in Graphic Converter instead of some opening in Photoshop and some in Preview. You can configure this here.

Tip #20 - File Extensions

The Mac OS has always utilized resource forks, which told the OS what program opens a particular file. Under OS X, that functionality still kind of exists, but file extensions play a big role in deciding what opens what kind of document. Under the Finder Preferences, you can tell OS X to hide the extensions, which is kind of strange. File name extensions used to be a bit of a battle cry on the Mac vs PC debates. Macs had a superior system for linking documents to program and PCs primarily relied on file extensions to link programs. Delete the .xxx and you could be in trouble. I'm left thinking that this hide extension option is a leftover stigma of this, allowing OS X to use extensions, but allow Mac users to forget they're using extensions to link documents to applications.

So, OS X lets you either always show extensions via the Finder Preferences, or hide/show extensions on an individual bases via the Get Info window. Personally, I'd rather see the extensions so I know what's going on, but as long as the right application opens a file, I'm happy.

Tip #21 - Serving Applications

I'm not going to pull any punches here. Doing any type of serving under OS 9 was pretty much a joke. The only thing OS 9 had over Windows and Unix was ease of use. Unix serving is the king of the hill with power and stability. Windows has its own ideas of ease of use, power and stability. With OS X we get it all, ease of use, stability, and robust power. OS X includes Apache for Web service with support for PHP in place of Windows ASP. Also included is a SSH/Telnet server and FTP service, plus the normal filesharing abilities. What's the tip here? Go nuts and do something cool with that broadband connection.

Tip #22 - Permissions

OS X's weak spot is its permissions. There is a need for permissions in OS X, as I covered a little last week, but for most people OS X's permissions get in the way. Mac OS X 10.1 improved on this greatly, and hopefully things will continue to improve. Occasionally OS X will not let you do something like empty the trash. It's frustrating and you're not alone.

One reason for these permissions is the use of multiple users. When I'm taking multiple users here, I don't mean two different users working on the same computer. OS X has other users, such as root as noted above. There are also users like daemon and www that handle specific task like www is related to Web services and daemon is system services. These users need specific permissions that are different than regular users (like me and you), mainly because of security.

So next time something weird happens, maybe you can take some comfort in knowing that there is a reason and no one is trying to drive you crazy. There are also some utilities available to help OS X's permissions pitfalls, in particular those trash emptying problems.

Tip #23 - Boot options

You've got a few options when booting into OS X.

    - Apple-C: The old boot to a CD rather than hard drive.

    - Apple- S: Single User Mode. This is for diagnostics and dumps out at the command line to do fixing

    - Apple-V: Verbose Mode. This lets you see what OS X is doing as it boots. Ideal for diagnosing a problem during startup.

    - Option: Lets you select which volume you want to boot to. Ideal for jumping between OS X and OS 9 without going into the startup disk settings.

Tip #24 - Recovery and Backup

Having to reinstall OS X is not a fun process. Basically Apple states that to reinstall OS X, you have to start over, which may mean a reformat, and do a full reinstall. There are a couple things you can do, however, to ease your trauma.

First, you want to backup up your user directory. You'll probably be keeping your documents in there, in addition to settings and data files. If you have to reinstall, you'll be able to at least bring these items in, if not all at once, parts at a time. Second, you probably want to backup the /Library file. That holds preferences and application specific resources. This can be trickier to restore, but you can probably do it item by item as needed.

Your applications are pretty portable. Note that while you should be able to just backup the Applications folder, certain applications may require resources in the /library or /system/library. That's where things can get sticky.

What makes restoring a back up so tricky is permissions. When you copy something to an OS X volume from your user account or root, whatever you copy is going to be tied that user. Odds are that will conflict in a number of ways to what's going on under OS X. Also, even if you boot under OS 9 and dump everything back, again you'll run into permissions problems.

Probably the best thing you can do is keep a backup of your data and documents. Then also backup preferences and replace what you can in the event of a loss. You can also back up your applications and stuff they install in the /library folder, but you should probably be prepared to reinstall your applications from CD just in case.

Tip #25 - Terminal Commands

Here's a short list of useful Terminal commands. Most of these are harmless, unless you start mixing them with sudo or su root.

- cd: change directory
- ls: display directory
- mv: move a file
- cp: copy a file (cp -R for directory)
- rm: delete a file (rm -R for directory)
- top: see list top CPU processes and their resources
- ps: -axuc: See all running applications, including in Darwin
- su: changes user (su root changes to root)
- sudo: changes to root access for that specific command (sudo rm file.txt)
- kill -9 xxx: kill process by process id number
- uptime: how long the computer has been running
- man: get manual file on an application (man sudo)