The latest system software for the Macintosh opens new doors, but should you venture through them?
By Steve Oppenheimer
The ballyhoo surrounding the release of Apple’s System 7.0 for the Macintosh excited a lot of power users, but many everyday Mac owners hesitate to take the plunge. It has been many moons since a Mac operating system was acclaimed as “revolutionary,” but as desktop computer op systems go, System 7.0 appears worthy of the sobriquet. The new system offers not only new features but a dramatically different way of thinking about Macintosh applications. It also has an early reputation for being the most bug-free new Mac system in years.
As a result of the new system’s revamped structure, however, many applications must be upgraded to run under it, and at this point, few music programs implement all its features. If you need to spend all your resources on immediate music and business production and can’t allocate time to learn and implement System 7.0, it may make sense to wait. Still, Apple’s latest op system offers a lot right now, and its huge potential may make it worthwhile to jump in as soon as possible. Let’s peek through newly revealed doors and consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of upgrading.
To begin with, forget Finder-only operation; System 7.0 always runs in MultiFinder The move to MultiFinder and the segregation of controls, preferences, and a few other things into separate system subfolders is part of Apple’s effort to incorporate mini/mainframe file, communications, and memory-management tools into the world’s friendliest user interface. For example, multitasking allows you to edit a sequence while concurrently printing a score or track sheet and downloading a file via modem in the background. Of course, the impact of this time-slicing arrangement on your real-time response is determined by what you select to run concurrently.
Two Inter-Application Communications (IAC) features, Publish and Subscribe and Apple Events, have long-term significance for both music and business applications. However, these features, which allow different programs to exchange information and functions, must be incorporated into specific applications. This is an important caveat, as it’s still uncertain when the majority of music-software programmers will issue upgrades to support IAC.
Publish and Subscribe lets you dynamically link documents created by different applications. A change in the published, or edition, file automatically is updated in all subscribing documents. Say you’re working on a song that exists in a sequencer, and you’ve transferred it to a notation program. Then you decide to change a few things in the sequence and want the notation file to reflect the changes. If you publish the data in the sequencer file as an edition and subscribe to it in the notation file, you only need update the edition, and the notation automatically will be updated. (You could go the other way, too, publishing the notation document and subscribing to it in the sequencer.) Perhaps you would like to write your lyrics in a word processor, create your logo in a graphics program, and subscribe to them in all score files of a notation program; changes could be performed, as needed, in the original applications and automatically updated in all your scores.
Apple Events allow 2-way communication between active applications. This lets the programs access each other for specific tasks. For instance, instead of capturing data from a synth with your librarian, editing, and reloading to the synth, then switching to the sequencer’s SysEx functions to capture the updated librarian dump, you could trigger the librarian’s functions from within the sequencer, which grabs the resulting dump (assuming both programs support Apple Events).
Apple Events will have a significant impact on multimedia creation, too. When Apple Events and QuickTime (discussed in the November 1991 “Computer Musician) are implemented in music applications (expected in early I992), multimedia creators will be able to play, in the background, digital audio and sequences created in such programs as Passport’s AudioTrax, triggered from within, and in sync with animation from, programs such as Macromind Director 3.0.
In the long-term, Apple Events may prove the most far-reaching aspect of System 7. Eventually, IAC could lead to powerful software systems incorporating specialized modules form different vendors, rather than huge, integrated programs with overlapping functions. Why write lyrics with a text editor in an oversized notation program when you can integrate a module from a company that specializes in word processing with a proportionately smaller notation module from a music-software company?
Under An Alias
With System 7.0. the Apple menu no longer is limited to DAs and open applications. Now you call put anything—an often-used document, application, or DA—in the Apple menu for quick access (see Fig. 1). All you do is put the program or file in the Apple Menu items subfolder within the System folder. For instance, say you have a large score, a database, and a big sequencer file you need to work on over a few weeks. Instead of digging through folders, just put the documents in the Apple menu and launch them as needed.
You don’t even have to move the actual application or document to the Apple Menu Items subfolder: just place an alias there. Aliases are small (about 2 KB) duplicate icons that point to an application or file; when you double-click on an alias, the application and/or document is launched or brought to the foreground.
Since aliases are just launchers, not copies, you can place multiple aliases in various locations without using much disk space. For instance, you could create a single folder that includes aliases of all your MIDI programs and current works, regardless of the folder in which they actually reside. This one-stop folder also can be moved or duplicated into the System/Startup Items subfolder within the System folder, so when the computer is booted, all programs and files are opened and ready for immediate use.
System 7 offers two new applications-memory features, but 32-bit addressing is the one with immediate promise for musicians. If your machine supports it (see “System 7.0 Requirements”), this feature provides the ability to address as much RAM as is physically installable (up to 128 MB on the Ilsi, Ilci, and Ilfx). While a 16 or 32 MB system may seem a costly endeavor, consider the payoff in terms of productivity. Using 32-bit model and a lot of RAM will provide enough memory to record, edit, and play huge arrays of audio and video data for memory monsters such as multimedia, sampling, and recording audio directly to disk.
At present only a (rapidly growing) handful of MIDI vendors support 32-bit operation, and only the newer Macs are capable of it. But those with 32-bit machines can install enough addressable RAM to take full advantage of System 7.0’s multitasking capabilities.
Unfortunately, the other new memory feature , virtual memory, is problematic for MIDI. In layman’s terms,
by swapping out pages of RAM data to disk, the computer is tricked into accessing unused hard-disk space as if it were additional RAM. However, virtual memory is much slower than RAM and can be a nightmare for MIDI applications, since the Mac could map out sections of a buffer while recording a sequence, or delay recording and playing while the system is swapping data to and from the disk.
One solution is to wait for Apple to deliver a MIDI Manager that includes controls over virtual memory management, mapping, and scheduling. But the only currently available solution is to disable virtual memory with the majority of MIDI applications.
System 7 lets you create, for any application, preformatted templates called stationary pads. Stationary documents are duplicated when opened, so the original is not overwritten. These could be used to create preformatted forms for scores, track sheets, lyric sheets, contracts, etc.
The ability to communicate between applications and set up templates combines with TrueType typeface management to add considerable punch to your published works. TrueType, Apple’s version of scalable fonts, replaces bitmapping to provide smoother lettering using any point size. You still can use PostScript Type I fonts such as Sonata, Seville, and Petrucci.
Increased productivity isn’t confined to a single Mac. For the multi-Mac studio or school, the era of the “sneaker-net” is over. File-sharing lets network users share data without electronic mail or AppleShare. After five minutes spent in the Users & Groups file within the Control Panel folder, a person can control who has access to what, even if the other Macs aren’t yet running System 7. And aliases let you access files and even applications on a remote, networked Mac, controlling a multi-processing operation from one computer.
System 7.0 boasts a lot more improvements, such as customized colors; balloon help (context-sensitive help that pops up in a comic strip-like dialog balloon) a file-finder that works; the demise of Font/DA Mover; and DAL (Data Access Language), which lets you use a spreadsheet or a word processor to access information from a mainframe or network database without knowing the database’s query language. Many of these features can help your daily computing, but the aspects mentioned—especially Apple Events, Publish and Subscribe, 32-bit addressing, and aliases—seem the biggest news for electronic musicians.
System 7.0 Compatibility
For most Mac users, the biggest factor in choosing System 7.4) is upgrading pi programs to run under it. Apple classifies programs as either not compatible, System 7.0- compatible, or System 7.0-friendly. While “compatible” programs run normally under the new system, “friendly” programs also implement its advanced features, especially Apple Events, Publish and Subscribe, TrueType fonts, 32-bit addressing, balloon help, and virtual memory.
Apple provides a HyperCard stack Compatibility Checker that identifies the programs on your disk as compatible, but its list is limited and includes few music programs. You’ll have to ask the manufacturers if your versions work with System 7.0. Upgrade and compatibility information also are available from user’s groups, bulletin board services, and Mac magazines. (Until System 7.0 compatibility becomes the norm, EM will note compatibility or “friendliness” in all “What’s New” announcements and reviews of Mac programs.)
In some cases, incompatible programs that are critical to your work may prevent you from making a complete system switch until you can get upgrades. One possibility, albeit a painful one, is to install System 7.0 on a second hard drive or removable-cartridge drive and switch between systems as needed. But before you start switching systems back and forth, be aware that System 7.0 has a different desktop structure than earlier systems. If you boot System 7.0, the boot volume’s desktop automatically is rebuilt, and you are prompted to rebuild the desktops on all mounted volumes. To return to System 6, you must remember to manually rebuild each volume’s desktop, including the startup volume. Otherwise, System 6 will bomb. (To rebuild the desktop, hold the Command and Option keys and select Restart.)
The desktop-rebuilding game progresses slowly and gets old quickly. To avoid the whole mess, Switcher 1.1 offers you a choice of systems at boot-up and automatically rebuilds the desktop when necessary. It’s available from BMUC (Berkeley Macintosh User’s Group; tel.  549-2684), either on disk or from the members’ online BBS (tel.  849-2684). Also, Opcode Systems’ Doug Wyatt has written an INIT—incidentally, INITS now are termed “System Extensions”—called Desktop6/7 that is supposed to eliminate the rebuilding blues. Members of the Performing Artists Network (PAN) BBS can download Desktop6/7 free from the Opcode forum; others can contact Opcode Systems (tel.  369-8131).
Apple says that almost everyone can use their new System 7.0 for the Macintosh, although it may require a hardware upgrade. Minimally, a hard disk and 2 megabytes of RAM is required, although 4 MB is needed to take advantage of multitasking. (System 7.0 always operates in MultiFinder, but you need enough memory to run multiple applications.)
This means that Mac 128, 5l2, 5l2ke, and XL owners are shut out of the System 7.1 world, and their only direct upgrade path is a new computer. The Mac Plus, SE, Portable, and Classic and the 68020-based LC and Mac II can run the new system but without 32-bit addressing or virtual memory. A 68020-based machine can use virtual memory with the addition of a Paged Memory Management Unit (PMMU) chip. The Mac II with PMMU, IIfx, llcx, and SE/30 won’t support 32-bit addressing but call run System 7.0 and use up to 14 MB of virtual memory.
If 32-bit mode, with its ability to address 1 GB of virtual memory and all the RAM you can fit, is important, a lIsi, Ilci, IIfx, or one of the newest models (Classic II, PowerBook 170, Quadra 700, or Quadra 900, all of which require and ship with System 7.0.1) is required. (Apple is giving away Connectix’ Mode 32, which adds 32-bit addressing to 24-bit, 68030-based machines. It’s not as elegant as having a 32-bit-clean ROM, though.
For $99, an Apple dealer will sell you the complete System 7.0 Personal Upgrade Kit, including the official documentation and HyperCard 2.1. Some Macintosh user’s groups. such as BMUG, offer the new system to their members, but without the HyperCard upgrade and the official doc. BMUG, for instance, charges members $25 for the system software and substitutes one of several books for the Apple documentation. (Non-members can get System 7.0 plus a 1-year BMUG membership for $60.) Preparation is essential before installation, so read the documentation carefully and use the Installer.
Should You Upgrade?
System 7.0 offers good benefits now and great power for the future. By early 1992, many Mac applications will be upgraded to some degree of compatibility or friendliness. Most music programs run under System 7.0 now, although most aren’t “friendly.” Once applications developers begin to stretch the new system’s limits, especially the lAC features, your perception of Mac computing will change dramatically.
You may not want or need more operating system than you have. If you’re on System 6.0.5 or 6.0.7 and need a proven, productive operating system, you’re already running it. But if you have the hardware to run System 7.0 and want to take advantage of the latest in Mac computing power, you should upgrade. If you’re on a network, and your software is compatible (even if not System 7.0-friendly), you should upgrade immediately. In the end, you won’t regret it.