Copland: hands-on report

By Mike Epstein [ http://bozosoft.com/mike/index.html ] (originally published on MacInTouch [ http://www.macintouch.com/ ])

I'm a shareware developer [ http://bozosoft.com/index.html ], and while wandering around Developer Central at Macworld I noticed a few machines demoing an early build of Copland (Mac OS 8) in the back of the pavilion. Surprisingly, the computers weren't mobbed; in fact, the stations were nearly empty. So I started playing with one of them, testing various features of the OS, basically out of curiosity. This machine was a 9500/120, and I ended up using it for close to an hour, I'd guess. Here are my observations and impressions (in no particular order):

The machine I used had a dual-boot setup with system 7.5 and Copland (development version 10, I think). If caps lock was down at startup, it booted into 7.5; otherwise it booted into Copland. Since the 7.5 environment was standard, the rest of my comments will pertain only to booting from Copland.

Booting seemed rather slow (no doubt because of the debugging code). The startup picture was an animated Mac OS logo that "zoomed out" from one pixel filling the whole screen through successive pixelated resolutions into the standard Mac OS logo. Then various text windows came up reporting system progress (for example, the TrueType and Type 1 scaling servers activating). In Copland, crashes in most applications theoretically only require rebooting the Toolbox (which takes about 10 seconds) rather than rebooting the whole machine. That's what happens when the user chooses Restart from the Special menu. Shut Down had an ellipsis (...) after it, implying that it would let you choose between a full reboot and shutting down, but when I tried it, the machine shut down immediately.

The OS only crashed a few times while I was using it; certain things, such as opening a file in the Apple Menu Items folder, guaranteed a crash. There was still a file named "Chooser" in the Apple Menu Items, but I was unable to open it to see if Apple had finally fixed the Chooser. The Apple menu itself did not exist beyond a stub; About This Macintosh was disabled (presumably unimplemented), and there was nothing below the separator under About This Macintosh.

Finder windows could be viewed as buttons in addition to icons. Buttons, which looked just like Launcher or At Ease buttons, didn't seem to allow any operations except for opening the item.

The Appearance Manager seemed to work fine, although only the default (Aaron-type) theme and the children's theme were on this machine. The children's theme was even more fun in person than it looks from screen shots. Menus, for example, were animated, so that moving the pointer down a pulled-down menu would cause active items to spin into a highlighted position. This spinning, however, was quite slow, so that the OS fell behind the pointer position. I'm sure this will be fixed in the release version, though. Pulling down menus could also take up to three or four seconds, because of debugging code, I presume. Switching between appearances happened on the fly and did not require any reboot.

The microkernel only takes up about 1 MB of memory, according to one of the engineers. This will leave 7 MB for applications and other components on an 8 MB machine. Copland's virtual memory is greatly improved over System 7.5; in 7.5, the entire system heap is held in memory rather than being swapped out. That's why 8 MB Power Macs are basically paperweights. Under Copland, they should be quite usable. The VM files are stored as separate files; on this Mac, a folder within the Mac OS Folder had about 500 VM swap files, totalling about 150 MB. The entire Mac OS Folder took about 180 MB including the swap files. There were several hundred separate shared libraries implementing the OS; presumably, this will make it much easier for Apple to update individual libraries, but it may also make the OS vulnerable to saboteur programs. If one file is missing, the OS might not boot (this is conjecture), and it would be hard to determine what file was missing.

Finder windows displayed the improvements seen in the Harmony screen shots I've seen, including total customizability regarding what columns are displayed in list views, their widths, and their relative positions. The sorted column in the active window has darker highlighting going down the list of files. On the whole, it was quite attractive. There are still some cosmetic bugs with tabbed windows, spring-loaded folders, and things like that. Dragging the "thumb" within the scroll bar is now live in the Finder, the way it currently works in certain applications.

The Balloon Help/Apple Guide menu is now called Help and no longer is an icon in the menu bar. The Application menu has two choices when the Finder is the only application running: Finder and (I think) Process Manager. Selecting Process Manager hides the menubar semi-permanently. Apparently, this will be resolved in the shipping version. In the version I saw, applications other than the Finder didn't have an application menu because it wasn't implemented yet. Contextual menus weren't implemented yet in the Finder, but a Copland-savvy version of SimpleText had them.

Several workspaces were installed on the machine, each with different privileges. However, there didn't seem to be any passwords required to boot into various identities, so workspaces don't seem useful for security in their present form.

The highly lauded V-Twin contextual search capabilities seemed every bit as fantastic as the hype for them. A new search of the entire disk by content completed in under a second. I wonder whether the search engine indexes the entire disk in the background; if not, I can't explain the amazing speed it exhibits. It could just be that this Mac didn't have many documents on it, but it seemed to have quite a few.

One quirk in the OS was that when you dragged a window, the new location of the window would be drawn before the old one was erased. In fact, if you dragged a window, released it, and repeated this process a few times, you could get several copies of the window on your screen. The OS engineer said that this was because of a significant optimization, and that it might (!) be resolved for the shipping version.

According to the OS engineer, at least a few people within Apple are using recent builds of Copland for everyday use.

1996 by Mike Epstein [ http://www.bozosoft.com/mike/ ], epstein@bozosoft.com. Last modified 17 August 1996