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Mac enthusiasts test drive OS X

Mac fans hit computer stores to test drive the new Mac OS X, chat with fellow Mac users, and in some cases, open their wallets.

    SAN JOSE--Mac enthusiasts hit computer stores early Saturday to test drive the new Mac OS X, chat with fellow Mac users, and in some cases, open their wallets.

    The groups of early gawkers were small and sporadic, but dedicated and very excited. "The cult is out today," joked John Houston, store manager at CompuWare in San Jose.

    OS X is the first complete overhaul of Apple's operating system since it was first released in 1984. Although CD recording and other features such as DVD playback aren't yet ready for it, Mac enthusiasts casing the stores Saturday did not seem to mind in the least.

    "I just got a new G4 machine so I?m going to install it on that," said Allen Caldwell, an electrician who checked out OS X Saturday morning at CompuWare. "I just need to wait for my next paycheck."

    Elsewhere in the store, a group of ten men watched in rapt attention as a sales associate conducted a seemingly never-ending demonstration. One member of the crowd, Stan Shebs, said he worked for Apple Computer as one of the developers on the product and came in to watch customers experiment with the operating system.

    "It?s very exciting," said Shebs. "I?ve been working in systems programming for more than 20 years and this is the first time I?ve been part of a major OS launch."

    Another in the group, a 17-year-old teenager from San Jose, said he came in to check out OS X and planned to convince his dad to return with him and buy it. "I?m always teaching my dad how to use stuff, and fixing his computer," said the teenager, who declined to give his name.

    In Cupertino, across the street from Apple?s corporate campus, blue and white balloons formed the shape of a "X" outside the small computer shop Elite Computer & Software. The night before, the store hosted an evening launch party and sold about 150 copies, said a sales associate. The highlight of the party: an appearance by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who "just stood around and talked to people," said salesman Tom Perry.

    "I shook his hand," Perry added.

    By around noon on Saturday, Perry estimated Elite Computer had sold approximately eight copies of OS X.

    Sean Adams, a software engineer at a Palo Alto start-up, bought one of these copies. Although he had been at the late-night launch party, "I didn?t want to wait in the line last night," he said.

    Adams said he had already used the developers? release, but wanted to buy the official version nonetheless. "It?s pretty exciting for Unix people and Mac people."

    The new OS is based on Unix, the same technology at the center of many server operating systems, and adds a new graphical interface. In addition, a feature called Internet Updater will automatically send bug fixes and new features to customers, who can choose to accept or reject the updates.

    Consumers who buy the new OS, which retails for $129, will get a free copy of Mac OS 9.1, which is included on a separate CD. By using Mac OS 9.1, they will be able to run older Mac applications and burn CDs. To record CDs, however, they will need to shut down a computer running Mac OS X and restart it in the older OS.

    Its biggest advantage may be standard features found on other mature operating systems such as Unix and Windows 2000, including the ability to easily run multiple programs at the same time, improved use of memory and greater crash resistance. Apple plans to begin shipping the software on new computers this summer.