Sonata b2c2 (Named Mac OS 9.0 at Macworld NY)
Company: Apple Computers, Inc.
Estimated Release: Late Summer/Fall, 1999
Note/Disclaimer: This preview is based on early beta software, which is defined as software in a pre-release (test) stage of development. Therefore, please be aware that various features of this beta software are subject to change in the final release. Note also that at the time this article was written, b2c2 was the latest “seeded build,” which means any beta builds released after this preview are not covered. My Mac Magazine was presented the opportunity to explore this particular build of Sonata by an Apple developer who wishes to remain anonymous.
At the 1997 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple outlined its next three major OS updates for us: Tempo, which became Mac OS 8.0; Allegro, which was dubbed Mac OS 8.5 and now Sonata, which has yet to be named. Apple delivered in style on Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 8.5, and they are poised to be successful once again with Sonata. New OS updates are always exciting to explore, and luckily My Mac Magazine has an opportunity to take you on a tour of Sonata, Apple’s next OS upgrade. Sit back and enjoy the ride!
Perhaps the most exciting new feature in Sonata is its capability to handle multiple users on one computer, while retaining preferences such as Appearance and Internet settings. This feature has been promised to Mac OS users since Copland (Apple’s original bid for a modern OS), and it’s finally becoming a reality with Sonata. While Sonata’s multiple user capability is much easier to set up and maintain than Windows NT, for example, it is limited in the sense that it doesn’t allow more than one user to be logged in at a time. Still, it’s a big advance over Mac OS 8.6 and Apple’s current multiple user solution, At Ease 5.0 for Workgroups.
To set up multiple users, your name and password must be entered in the File Sharing control panel. Once this is done, an administrator or “owner” account is automatically created. Then, you can create other accounts for other users on your computer. There are three types of user accounts: Normal, Limited, and Panels. Each represents a different level of functionality.
Normal users have full access to the Finder and all its features. Administrators can limit a normal users’ ability to change their password and read other users documents, but they cannot limit features such as access to certain applications, Control Panels, or the Chooser. Limited users are still given a Finder interface when they log in, however the applications, disks, and other items which they have access to can be limited. You can also limit their ability to print to certain printers, or to print at all.
Users with a “Panels” account are given a much simpler alternative interface to the Finder, pictured above. There they can see only the applications and disks you give them access to. Furthermore, they can only access Control Panels, Apple menu items, the Chooser, and other removable media if the administrator allows it. If not, they are limited to just their Panels interface, making the risk of them changing vital system settings much less than in the current Mac OS Finder.
The Multiple Users control panel includes Global User Options, which are administrator specific preferences that are applied to all multiple user accounts. Features such as the ability to log in over a network, voice verification, and CD/DVD restricted access lists can be specified. Additionally, administrators can set a welcome message, be notified when new applications are installed, and log out or lock a user’s screen if they are idle for a certain period of time. Multiple User capability is a big step for the Mac OS that will most certainly change the way families, educational institutions, and business make use of their computers.
Multiple Users are exciting, but the neatest feature of Sonata has to be voice verification: the ability to speak your password as opposed to manually typing it. Once you enable voice verification under the Global User options, you can set up an alternate password for each user. I had an extremely pleasant experience with voice verification, and its functionality is astoundingly well for an early beta build. I had to test the microphone, and then record my phrase four times. This is to assure that the computer learns your voice and the tone at which you speak the phrase. I was able to successfully use the phrases “My voice is my computer,” “Welcome to Speedy,” and “Zack is a child” as alternate passwords. Definitely cool, and very easy to use! Below are screenshots of the voice verification setup.
Sherlock the 2nd
Further enhancing ease of use in Sonata is the new version of Sherlock, which has been dubbed Sherlock II 1.0, as opposed to Sherlock 3.0. It has followed in QuickTime 4.0’s footsteps, becoming the third Apple-branded program to utilize the “smoothed” window interface. This radical interface change has received both good and bad reviews from the press. Nonetheless, Sherlock II has many exciting new features.
Sherlock II has been rid of the “tabs” appearance, and now uses channels to select which type of content you want to search for. Channels allow you to organize your Sherlock plug-ins, a big advance over the previous version. When you click on a channel, all of the search sites (plug-ins) available for that channel appear in the top section of the window, and after your search is complete, all results appear in the bottom part of the window. (See above Screenshot)
“Find File” and “Find by Content” have been combined into the “Files” channel, and separate Internet-related channels, such as “People,” “Shopping,” and “Sports” will allow Sherlock to custom tailor its content listing based upon what you are searching for. So, for example, if you are using the “People” channel, resulting columns will be “email address” and “phone number.” Searching in the “Shopping” channel will yield results appropriate to e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com, eBay, and others.
The “Internet Search Sites” folder now contains sub-folders of its own, each representing one channel. Plug-ins can then be placed in those sub-folders and will appear the next time Sherlock is launched. Overall, Sherlock II is an excellent advance in functionality over its predecessor, but the radical interface change may dull some of the cheers.
Safe and Sound
Amongst the many new features of Sonata are two new utilities that will make using your computer much easier, more efficient, and most of all, more secure. The first part of this system is the Keychain, which has been resurrected after its initial death as part of the PowerTalk software suite. The Keychain provides users with a way to store all their passwords in one central location, and then unlock all of them using a single password, via the Keychain Access control panel or the Keychain control strip. Users can specify what level of security should be taken when unlocking the keychain, such as having it automatically lock itself after a certain period of time or when the system goes to sleep.
The Keychain Access control panel supports multiple keychains, and also supports certificates, which are special types of encrypted passwords for use with different types of Internet services. It’s important to note, however, that for the true power of the keychain to be unlocked, applications will have to be updated, or “made aware” of the Keychain before the passwords you store in them can also be stored in the Keychain.
One Application that is already Keychain aware is Apple Secure Encryption, which gives users built-in encryption and compression accessible via drag-and-drop on the Apple Secure Encryption application. Users can also encrypt files via the “Encrypt” command available via the File menu or contextual menu.
The encryption technology that Apple uses is extremely secure, yet very easy to use. Double-clicking on the encrypted file will result in immediate decryption and opening in its creator application. Once the file has been worked upon, it can be re-encrypted just as easily. Encryption of files is very fast, and compression savings are generally good, though not nearly as good as Aladdin’s StuffIt technology.
One of the best features of QuickTime 4.0 is its ability to automatically search for updates with the QuickTime Updater application. Apple’s new Software Update control panel functions in a very similar way to the QuickTime Updater application, allowing users to check for updates available on Apple’s servers and subsequently download and install them. This will make it much easier for users to determine what updates they need, and it turn, make it easier for Apple to provide support to its users via updates. It’s a win-win situation.
Additionally, Software Update 1.0 features a scheduler which will allow you to specify times at which Software Update should automatically check for updates. Of course, Software Update requires an Internet connection to work, and if you have a dial-up connection, it might be better to manually check for updates unless you will be sure you will be connected at the time that Software Update is scheduled to hunt down updates.
Control Panels – new and old
Many existing control panels have been greatly enhanced, featuring new icons and interfaces. Additionally, all control panels, including true “cdev’s” run as their own process now, instead of running inside the Finder. Now all control panels appear to be running as applications, and you can switch back and forth between them with the application switcher or application menu.
All the changes listed here are to control panels that have been updated but were not covered in the above sections.
Appearance 1.1.4, Apple Menu Options 1.1.6, Control Strip 2.0.1, Dane & Time 8.2, Energy Saver 2.5, File Exchange 3.0.2, General Controls 7.7.2, Startup Disk 7.7.5, and Text 8.0.Other Nifty Features
Many other miscellaneous improvements have been made to the Finder and other areas of the Mac OS in this upgrade.
Since the introduction of Mac OS 8.0, Apple has done a superior job of updating the Mac OS. Apple has improved upon the OS in all of its releases since, and in Mac OS 8.5 Apple made vast improvements beyond what we were expecting. Sonata, however may be the most prominent and greatest improvement yet. It will do more than improve your Macintosh; it will change the way you use it, especially if you share your computer with other people.
The addition of Multiple User capability is a huge leap for the Mac OS, and features such as Sherlock II, the Keychain, Software Update, and others are all added bonuses. While Sonata will not be nearly as big as Mac OS X, it will be an upgrade that you will want to invest in. Apple has built a reputation of solid OS upgrades in the past two years, and Sonata is shaping up to be no exception. Look for a full review of the new OS when it is released later this year.