Apple broke the mold of its traditional operating system with the implementation of its UNIX-based operating system, OS X. Functional enhancements include a much more stable environment and a more efficient and reliable method for allocating memory. Multitasking is not only easier, it is finally effective, and system crashes are "virtually" nonexistent, according to Ryan Booz, research programmer for Classroom and Lab Computing (CLC), a unit of Information Technology Services. "The traditional Mac user will also notice a big difference in the look and feel of the streamlined OS X interface," said Booz.
CLC recently installed OS X in the student computing labs on campus. Since the OS X deployment, CLC has noticed an increase in Mac OS usage in the labs. Booz said that the increase in usage may be due to improved space efficiency that resulted from the installation of many iMacs (in which the hard drive and monitor are combined into one, space-efficient unit), as well as the general added efficiency and simplicity of the OS X operating system. "There's just more room at the desks for students to spread out, and that's probably more convenient for them," said Booz.
Booz noted that most of the programs installed on the lab machines are cross-platform compatible, and students may not know that they can perform the same functions on a Mac as they can perform on a PC.
Last semester, a CLC staff member who was working in one of the labs observed students waiting in line to use the PCs, while many of the Macintosh computers remained available for use. When asked what task they were waiting to perform, many students stated functions that could be performed on a Mac, such as printing a document or searching the Web.
"Some students are intimidated by the Mac simply because they are unfamiliar with the platform," said Booz, "when in fact, most of the things a student would want to do on a computer can be done just as easily on either platform."
CLC has customized OS X in the labs to streamline certain functions and simplify common tasks for the user. When a user logs in, for example, the Programs Window will automatically display on the screen. If a user is not up to date on current CLC news, a Newsflash screen will pop up, announcing only those developments that have occurred since the user's last OS X session. Once the user closes the Newsflash window, the Programs window will be viewable.
The Programs window was developed by CLC as a way to simplify commonly performed tasks. It is composed of the following four sections:
Most Popular Programs -- This section lists the most frequently used programs, based on usage statistics. Instead of searching for the application, a user can double-click on the application's name within this window to launch the program.
Browse Programs -- This is a convenient way for users to search for applications. It is designed to save time and frustration for users who know what application they want to use, but who are unfamiliar with how to locate and launch the application in the OS X system. The "Find Programs" application will allow users to perform a keyword search for the application they wish to use.
Network Drives -- This section lists the various storage space options available to all Penn State students. Clicking on one of these options will connect the user to the network drive upon which their storage space resides. The user can save work or personal files in the space provided. Important Note: OS X does not automatically save the user's settings from session to session. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that users save their files frequently in the storage space provided or bring an external storage device, such as a USB Flash Drive, to the lab to save and transfer files.
PSU Resources -- These are links to Penn State Web pages that may be of special interest to students or which may be a helpful resource.
In addition to implementing the Programs window, CLC has customized the OS X dock to provide easy access to popular programs and to simplify the search for other applications. Programs that currently reside in the OS X dock include Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, iTunes, PowerPoint, and many more. To open these programs, the user must click once on the application's icon in the dock.
Users can return to the Programs window by clicking on the Applications folder in the dock. The dock also provides an alternative method for accessing various categories of applications, including chat, mail, Web and all applications.
Many long-term Mac users may find the new operating system to be somewhat foreign, but the increased stability and efficiency of the system makes learning the new interface worth the effort, according to Booz. "Users will find that most of the traditional features of OS 9 are still present in OS X, and they will be pleased to find many improvements to the system as well," he said.
CLC has composed some informational Web pages for those who are new to OS X, those who are moving from OS 9 to OS X, and for Windows users. Visit the CLC Web site for details at http://clc.its.psu.edu/.