This is a little bit of wanting the cake and eating it too, but I think it’s a laudable (if idealistic) goal to ask for an operating system that can withstand a slew of third-party modifications and keep on ticking. After all, this is part of the thinking that went into Apple’s complete overhaul of the way utilities work in Mac OS X — rather than modifying the system, most modern Macintosh utility software runs as a separate application, taking advantage of protected memory to isolate any trouble it might cause, and preventing against conflicts as we used to know them under the old regime of extensions and control panels. In developing this schema, Apple clearly wanted to create an operating system that provided some safeguards against all the hijinks that utilities might cause. I’m just hoping they take it even further and make the underlying system bulletproof.
As a practical matter though, I know that any hit I take to stability is a situation of my own making. I admit that I install new software freely — if not wantonly, then often — a habit that invites system troubles. But I’m hooked on Macintosh software, little utilities and applications that make my Mac do new things, and I can’t imagine why everyone else isn’t, too. I can kind of understand the user who wants to run a lean and mean system in order to maximize efficiency, but frankly it’s not a world view to which I could ever subscribe.
Resistance Is Futile
What makes me such a devotee of this operating system is the excess of brilliant software design that seems to pour forth from all corners of the user community. Take a look at Quicksilver, which has been justly lauded — it’s a fantastic, world-class system enhancement modestly hiding under the classification “freeware.” Or DragThing, which I’ve been using for years and years — it’s published by a single, very well organized independent developer, and it’s a rare example of a piece of software that has grown more elegant while never straying from its original goal as a launcher. Or, as I mentioned, Default Folder X, which still pains me in its absence from my work machine every single time I invoke an open/save dialog box. Or PTHPasteboard, an excellent pasteboard enhancement that has just been updated and is still available for free.
I’ll gladly acknowledge that my indulgence in this software comes at the price of long-term OS stability. But I think it’s important to realize, too, that third party ingenuity does a heck of a lot for this platform. It may be unrealistic to expect the Mac OS to handle them without side effects, but it’s not foolish.