Enhance Your Performance!

Enhance MeThe advice that some readers had for me in response to my complaining about Mac OS X’s tendency to develop troubles over time was: run a clean system and avoid third-party enhancements. It’s good advice and I’ve heard it lots of times over the years. At an old job, when the new Mac sysadmin first saw how many extensions and control panels I had running on Mac OS 9, he said, “Everywhere I go, there’s one guy that has like three rows of extension icons on the load screen. I guess you’re that guy here.” Guilty. I’m addicted to system utilities and enhancements, I must admit, but that doesn’t mean that I must resign myself entirely to the ill effects of them, does it?

Stable Mates

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.

  1. It’s my feeling that if one doesn’t experience system slowdown and weirdness after a period of time, then one isn’t flogging one’s incredibly powerful machine to the extent of its capabilities. All these holier-than-thou, no-third-party-extensions-for-me types need to TRY HARDER. Then they’ll understand.

  2. Oh, I’m of the half-n-half mind, I have one machine that I’ve installed many things on, another that is pure as it can be, even opting out of MS Office as I think we can all agree that as a 3PD, MS is at the lower ends. However, I find that some apps, QuickSilver among them, are not just add-ons that some should try out, they are system utilities that add enough that they should be a part of any system. They are the equivalent of, well, in my case, Photoshop, which I use daily for specific tasks and without it I couldn’t find my head. So QS is on every system, as is PS. Happy medium, tho, as I’ve tried Dragthing and just don’t like it. Of course, trying things is the point, right?

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