Reality check: as much as we love Mac OS X (particularly now that the advent of version 10.1.1 means the system actually runs rather than hobbles), it's still not "the" face of the Macintosh. True, Mac OS X is preloaded on every new Mac and has been for six months, now, but the fact of the matter is that when those sparkly new Macs are pulled from their boxes, plugged in, and powered up for the first time ever, their owners will still find themselves face to face with Mac OS 9 in all its Platinum glory. Aqua-y goodness is just one quick trip to the Startup Disk control panel away-- but most novice users are going to stick with the hand they're dealt.
And, for the most part, well they should; Mac OS X compatibility continues to grow healthier with each passing day, but right now there's still a ton more software and peripherals that work with Mac OS 9 and not Mac OS X than vice-versa. Until the phrase "Mac-compatible" on a software box or a video card means "Mac OS X-compatible," Apple's going to have to ship its systems running Mac OS 9. So the question that's been on everyone's minds since the Aqua Revolution last March is this: when can we buy a new Mac, take it home, start it up, and be greeted by a Dock instead of a Control Strip?
For a company that has repeatedly assured its customers and developers that it's not pursuing a dual-OS strategy, Apple sure seems to be schitzoid on the operating system issue. The last time we walked into an Apple retail store, every Mac we looked at was running Mac OS X; every Mac that Apple sold that day, however, was configured to boot into Mac OS 9. There's sort of a Jeckyll-and-Hyde thing going on, except that since both operating systems are pretty spiffy in their own respective ways, it's more of a Jeckyll-Jeckyll arrangement. (Mr. Hyde, meanwhile, hails from Redmond.)
Some of you may recall that we got all indignant with the San Jose Mercury News last July for reporting that Mac OS X wouldn't be Apple's default operating system until April of next year; now that estimate almost seems optimistic. See, at the time we were operating under the deliriously naïve delusion that Mac OS X 10.1 would magically fix every problem under the sun, from lack of DVD playback and glacial window resizing to cancer, world hunger, and the startling increase of cat juggling. We failed to reckon with the decidedly un-speedy pace at which applications, drivers, etc. are being adapted for Mac OS X compatibility, so these days another five or six months before Mac OS X really hits the mainstream now actually sounds pretty good to us.
If you've always figured that April was a realistic-- even aggressive-- target, we've got some good news: according to the Wall Street Journal, Apple chief marketing veep Phil Schiller states that, with "over 1,900 native applications" now shipping (including Microsoft Office), the Mac OS X transition is "on track to be completed by March 2002." We're not sure exactly what constitutes the end of the "transition," but we're reasonably certain that when it's done, new Macs aren't still going to be booting into Mac OS 9. But March is only four months away, so we don't have long to wait to find out. Viva la revolución!