Apple's New System Is Hard to Beat

LAWRENCE J. MAGID is a Silicon Valley-based computer analyst and writer

Apple Computer's System 7, the long-awaited Macintosh operating system software introduced Monday, makes the Mac more powerful and easier to use.

The new system software, along with Apple's newly adopted aggressive pricing strategy, will help polish Apple's longstanding reputation as an innovator. System 7 provides access to more memory, streamlines the way you run programs and makes it possible for future Macintosh programs to exchange data and programming tasks with little or no help from you. It also makes it easier to install and use fonts.

An operating system is the basic software that controls the overall operation of the computer. Apple's goal with System 7 was to provide additional functionality and ease of use without requiring users to relearn how to use the machine. Experienced Mac users will notice that the machine continues to operate as it always has.

The Mac's file management system, called the Finder, has been improved. It's no longer necessary to search through on-screen folders to locate program icons. You can launch programs by selecting them from a menu or you can click on a copy of an icon, called an "alias," which can be located anywhere, including the main start-up screen.

There is now a new help icon to the right of the menus. When help is activated, the Mac pops up a balloon (like the kind used for comic strip dialogue) that provides information about whatever icon, file or menu you have highlighted with the mouse. You can continue to work while the help balloon is displayed. This new help system is available when using the new Mac Finder and will be available with programs developed or modified specifically for System 7.

Apple has improved the way windows are displayed. Now you can "hide" a program's windows so that they no longer block the view of other windows. The program is still running, but the screen space is available for other software. That's critical when using a Mac (such as the SE or Classic) with a small screen. System 7 also makes it easier to find files by name. Another new feature, called TrueType, improves the way fonts look on the screen and adds support for additional printers.

Some of System 7's features won't be evident until you begin using software that has been designed to take advantage of the new operating system.

Mac users have always been able to copy text or graphics from one program to another, but a new feature, called "publish and subscribe," provides more sophisticated methods for data exchange. You can create a graph in your spreadsheet and "publish" it so that it becomes available to other programs or other users on a network. Then, while you're using your word processing program, you can "subscribe" to that graph so that it appears as an illustration in your document. If later you return to the spreadsheet to change the graph, you can publish a new "edition" that will automatically update the graph in the word processing document.

The Mac now has "inter-application communication," which allows programs to exchange messages with one another.

For example, a lot of people use their word processing program to write memos and later run communications software to send the memos into an electronic mail system. In the future, you'll be able to control the communications software from within your word processor.

Since the beginning, Apple has endowed all Macs with built-in local area network hardware, making it possible to connect several Macs to each other or to a shared printer. In the past, you needed special software to move files between Macs. System 7 now comes with built-in file sharing so that any Mac connected to a network can access files on the other Macs.

It will also be possible to share files between networked Macs and IBM PC-compatibles using special hardware and software for the IBM systems. The user of any computer on the network can decide whether to make files accessible to others on the network.

Contrary to an ad that appeared in many newspapers on Monday, the Mac cannot "run MS-DOS programs." Macs can read and write 3.5-inch DOS disks, but the only way to run MS-DOS software on a Mac is to equip it with special software (Soft PC from Insignia Solutions) or a co-processor board from Anaheim-based Orange Micro.

System 7 requires a Mac Plus or better with two megabytes of RAM. A coupon for a free upgrade to System 7 will be included with new Macintoshes. Existing users can purchase a $99 personal upgrade kit or pay $349 to upgrade an entire organization.

I've used a pre-release version of the operating system and found it to be compatible with most, but not all, of my programs.

System 7 comes with a program that scans your disk for incompatible programs, but even that is no guarantee. If you have software you can't live without, you should check with the publisher to be sure it's compatible.

Computer File welcomes readers' comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, P.O. Box 620477, Woodside, Calif. 94062, or contact the L. Magid account on the MCI electronic mail system.

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