San Jose, Calif. Six months ago, Apple Computer released its next-generation operating system, Mac OS X. It was applauded for its ease of use, artistic flair and rock-solid stability.
But limited software availability and molasseslike performance kept many users away from Apple's biggest operating system overhaul since the Macintosh was introduced in 1984.
Now, Apple has launched its first major upgrade, OS X Version 10.1, and it more than makes up for sins of the past. It's fast. There's more software available. And it plays nicer with other PCs.
In other words, there's little reason for Mac users to suffer from Windows XP envy when Microsoft launches its new operating system later this month. OS X is finally ready for prime time.
It remains to be seen whether Apple will capture more of the personal computer market. But anyone who ventured into the realm of Linux in search of a Windows alternative should at least give OS X a try.
OS X Version 10.1 requires a relatively new Mac with at least 128 megabytes of memory. That excludes a lot of older machines, including the first iMacs released several years ago.
The most noticeable improvement is the boost in speed. The system boots faster. Applications launch quicker. Simple tasks such as resizing windows are without delay.
Microsoft Internet Explorer, for instance, took 5 to 7 seconds to launch on the old version, even running on a dual 800-megahertz G4 Mac. With the upgrade, the browser is surfing the Web in about 2 seconds.
Version 10.1, like the first release, is built on a foundation of Unix, the industrial-strength operating system used by corporations, researchers and powerful Web servers.
Though individual programs might crash, they do not bring down the entire system or force a reboot. It's a feature that Apple users have long desired and one that Microsoft long ago delivered in some Windows operating systems.
Though OS X and XP share some resemblance particularly with the use of drop shadows around windows, large icons and vivid colors there are some striking differences.
For one, OS X does not require users to register with the Mother Ship or face deactivation.
Also, I did not have to pay more money for software to play a DVD movie on the Apple system. My preview of Windows XP required that I buy decoding software.
Finally, I did not have to download additional software to rip high-quality MP3 files off CDs on the Mac. XP's Media Player can encode MP3 files but at a low quality.
XP can run much more software overall.
Apple, however, recently announced that more than 1,400 titles are now available for OS X, and most older Mac software works in a compatibility mode.
In November, Microsoft will release its Office suite for OS X. A preview of Word showed Microsoft has kept both the style of the operating system and the power of the PC applications.
Most significantly, documents created in Office can be transferred to an IBM compatible machine and edited in the PC version of the program. (This works with graphics, audio and many other document types as well.)
Apple has made significant improvements to OS X's networking capabilities. Macs can now talk to networked PCs in their native language something previously available by buying third-party programs.
The biggest problem is with the virtually nonexistent instructions. It took me a few hours of trial and error before I succeeded.
OS X also includes support for technology that allows files to be stored on specially enabled Web servers. Once connected, a disk shows up on the desktop just like the floppy drives Apple no longer builds into its computers.
The new operating system costs $129 but is free to anyone who bought OS X since its March release. Copies are available at Apple stores and resellers.