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State of the Art: OS X for Designers

Is it time to make the switch? By Dave Nagel
If you're anything like me, you were out early Saturday morning?despite the throbbing pain in your head and the cottony taste in your mouth?rushing to the nearest computer retailer to pick up the latest release of Mac OS X, version 10.1. I know that not all of you are Mac psychofanatics and that a pretty decent-sized chunk of you don't even use a Mac at all. Nevertheless, Mac users do make up significantly more than half of the the total users in this particular creative space, so the question of switching is a relevant one.

Mac OS X 10.1 is, without a doubt, the best Mac operating system to date. It now does just about everything the previous Mac OS could do, but it has the added bonus of being completely crash-proof and using a combination of protected memory and preemptive multitasking to boost usability, plus PostScript, QuickTime and OpenGL at its core to boost performance.

But the quality of the OS is not necessarily the top priority for everyone. If it were, SGI Irix would be the dominant platform right now, and Microsoft would have gone out of business with the release of Windows 3.1. No, the issue on most people's minds right now though is application application and device support. In other words, will OS X work with your current setup?

Does it work with my applications?
That depends. If you're a 3D artist, you're in business. Every major Macintosh 3D developer has ported to OS X, including Alias|Wavefront Maya, Electric Image Universe, NewTek LightWave and Maxon Cinema 4D XL. The stuff works great, and you should have no problems whatsoever.

If you're a 2D artist, the story is a little more complicated. First off, you need to understand the differences between native and non-native (Classic) applications. A native application is one that was written specifically for OS X, while a Classic application is one that was written for OS 9. Mac OS X can run most Classic applications.

In terms of native support, the applications are starting to trickle in, including Macromedia Freehand 10 and Corel Painter, KPT and Graphics Suite 10. Adobe has announced support for OS X with the next major release of all of its applications, with Illustrator and InDesign leading the pack over the next few months.

Actually, everybody will support OS X eventually, but right now it's a matter of "when?"

I don't know. I can't imagine any developer holding out for more than a year, and most likely you're going to see the bulk of OS X releases long before then. But what do you do in the meantime?

Here's my advice. It's critical that you familiarize yourselves with OS X because you will eventually be using it. And, since this latest 10.1 release is such a powerful release, you might as well start doing it now. I've tested a number of creative applications that work in Classic mode in OS X, and I have yet to encounter one that gives me problems. Photoshop 6 works fine. Illustrator works fine. QuarkXPress and InDesign work fine. Dreamweaver is perfectly functional. Basically everything's great.

Excuses, excuses
So what might be holding you back? What made me stick with OS 9 previously was the fact that I couldn't run my Wacom tablet in OS X, and support for output devices was iffy. Now, however, this has all changed. Apple added support for the bulk of USB inkjet printers, as well as description files for more than 200 laser printers. And Wacom released a very viable beta of its driver software for all of its USB tablets.

So now, unless you're using some very specialized software that you know won't run under OS X, you have no reason not to make the switch. In fact, you have all the reason in the world to make the switch now that Apple has added in basic functionality like CD burning on the desktop (with support for third-party external CD burners), DVD support and the like. It's all there.

The only reason you might have now for not making the switch is fear of losing what you have. This is a common response, but it's not a legitimate concern. You can install OS X in addition to your current operating system and switch back to the old system whenever you want, with all of your preferences, device settings and everything else still intact.

I urge all of you to give OS X 10.1 a try. It's the most solid operating system out there, and it can handle just about anything you throw at it. If you're still worried about making the change, just remember that there are dozens of sites and user forums out there ready to hold your hand through the process, including several forums here at Digital Media Net. If you have any questions or concerns about specific applications, feel free to visit the Creative Mac forum at http://www.wwug.com/forums/creative_mac/index.htm, or, if you don't feel like airing your concerns publicly, drop me a line at dnagel@digitalmedianet.com. We're all in this together.

Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications. You can reach him at dnagel@digitalmedianet.com.

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