To assuage concerns about lost functionality, Apple has reminded customers that although the OS X-only Macs wont boot directly into OS 9, most older programs will run in "Classic" mode, which launches a version of OS 9 after the Mac has booted into OS X.
Apples reversal Friday addresses two groups of customers who need to be able to boot directly into OS 9: professional users who rely on the publishing program Quark Xpress and schools.
Until next June, professionals can buy a top-of-the-line dual 1.25-gigahertz G4 tower -- current price: $3,299 -- that will retain dual-booting capabilities. Education customers will continue to have available certain eMacs, iBook laptops and original-design CRT-based iMacs with OS 9-booting ability.
But Apples Dec. 13 announcement rekindled consternation on the part of some Mac users concerned about losing the ability to boot into OS 9 on their next Mac, and precisely what Apples policy means.
Users were worried that every Mac built after Jan.1 would lack the ability to boot into OS 9. In fact, an Apple spokesman said that existing Mac models will, indeed, retain the ability to boot into OS 9 after Jan. 1 -- and wont become OS X-only until Apple revises the model.
Thus, only Mac models upgraded in January will lose the ability to boot into OS 9. As models are revised over the following months, they, too, will lose the ability to boot into OS 9.
The good news, however, is that Mac users looking to buy a machine -- and they're agonizing over whether to buy now to ensure getting an OS 9-bootable Mac -- can relax a little. Some dual-boot Macs will continue to be available into the first part of next year, although no one but Apple knows which models or for how long.
In this context, Apples statement appears more of a reassurance to two of its primary market segments that have specific reasons for needing to be able to boot into OS 9; such machines will be available to them until June, regardless of which models Apple upgrades over the period.
Graphics and publishing professionals, long a staple of Mac's market, have hesitated to leave OS 9 behind because Quark Inc., alone among the major programs these professionals rely upon, doesnt have an OS X version of Xpress -- yet.
Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., has reason to be concerned that it could lose publishing customers because of the late OS X version of Xpress. A Nov. 27 response from Quarks communication manager, Glen Turpin, to Mac users questioning the companys commitment to the Mac shed some light on the Quark-Apple relationship:
"Our market data indicates that fewer publishers are purchasing Macs," Turpin said, "and more of our Mac-using customers are considering switching to Windows."
Turpin, however, said that Quark remains committed to the Mac platform and that Mac users still constitute a majority of Quarks customer base. He added that the relationship between Quark and Apple is "closer than it has been in years."
Turpin didnt specify when the OS X version of Xpress would appear, saying simply that "there is still a lot more testing to do before we release it."
Educational customers have avoided switching because many school systems still have a lot of Macs that are too old to run OS X (basically machines five years and older). Even those schools with Macs that can run OS X have found that some educational CD-ROMs written for OS 9 wont work in Classic mode.
Many ordinary home users also have reasons for wanting to retain the ability to boot into OS 9. Besides legacy software that wont run in Classic mode, some Mac users -- myself included -- have discovered that certain peripherals, particularly older scanners, wont work unless the Mac is booted into OS 9.
So any Mac user who requires the ability to boot into OS 9 and who was planning to buy a new Mac within the next nine months will need to pay strict attention to Apples new product announcements -- unless theyre a well-heeled graphics pro or an educator.
Of course, a practical solution to the OS 9 booting dilemma is to keep your old Mac after you've bought a new machine.