Apple has released the newest iteration of OS X (10.3). Consistent with the naming conventions Apple has utilized in its OS X releases, Apple has named this big cat "Panther." Panther qualifies as a major upgrade of OS X. For those of you who want to upgrade existing computers to the newest system, Panther will cost $129.
What does the new cat in the Mac bring to the party? Panther presents a completely new user interface. Panther brings the iTunes look to the Finder. It will take some getting used to, but most users will, ultimately, find it easier to use than the current OS X Finder.
Panther adds over 150 new or improved features to OS X, including some OS 9 features that users have missed, such as the ability to make and attach color labels for files. Like all the OS X iterations, Panther’s Unix base makes it very stable. Installation of Panther as an upgrade has gone very smoothly and without incident on several computers for me. The process has taken about 35 minutes for each computer. It is fully automated and takes no real effort on your part to complete. This column will briefly touch on some of the highlights of the Panther upgrade. If you already have adopted OS X, you will want this upgrade. If you have continued to rock along with OS 9.2 and your computer meets the OS X (10.3) hardware requirements, the addition of the Panther features should make the upgrade to OS X irresistible to you.
One of the biggest and certainly most noticeable changes in Panther is the presentation of the finder. For those of you that have used iTunes, the new finder will appear familiar. For the rest of you, it will come as a bit of a surprise. This is what it looks like:
As a part of Panther, you will get the final release copy of iChatAV, Apple’s powerful, but easy to use instant messaging / video conferencing software that has been in public beta testing for the last several months. If you just want to get iChatAV, you can purchase it separately for $29. Think of iChatAV as personal videoconference software for the Mac. It allows face-to-face conversations in high quality video over the Internet. Apple would like you to use iChatAV with its iSight camera/microphone package.
iChat will, by the way, work with other webcams as well. The iSight, however, happens to be a very nice package in an unusual cylindrical form that produces high-quality sound and visual. It retails for $149. The iSight camera works through a FireWire connection to the computer. The transmittal of video requires a broadband connection to work. You can do audio over a dial-up connection. A word of warning, however: iChatAV works only on Macs. There is no Windows version; and I have not found a compatible Windows program. There are other programs that allow you to use video and between a Mac and a Windows computer, such as Yahoo Instant Messenger (video and text yes, video and voice, no).
Panther includes a new productivity feature called Expose. Expose provides a substantial improvement in windows management. Panther’s inclusion of advanced virtual and protected memory allows you to have numerous applications open at the same time without risk of data loss in other applications if one open application should crash. With multiple documents open in some of the applications, you could have many windows own at the same time. Expose allows you to locate each of the open windows, instantly allowing you to see all of them at once and to switch to the one you want or see just the windows of the current program. The F9 key toggles the tiling feature. Pressing it once scales all open windows and places them on the screen. Pressing it again restores them to their previous size. The F10 key does a special tiling for open Photoshop files. The F11 key clears all windows off the desktop so that you can find something on the desktop itself without having to move each window separately; pressing it a second time and returns the windows to the desktop.
Speaking of Windows and the Mac interfacing . . . Panther facilitates interaction between the two platforms by allowing the Mac to join a Windows-based network using Panther’s built-in client for Virtual Private Networking. You can share files and printers, even using wireless connections. Windows services appear in the Mac Finder; Macs show up on the Window’s Network Neighborhood.
Among the other new features Panther provides, you will find: File Vault (AES-128 encryption); Fast User Switching (the ability to change users without logging out of applications); Font Book (locates organizes and manages your fonts); Mail (the ability to follow discussion threads has been added and the ability to block junk mail improved); Preview (improved speed in scrolling through and searching PDF files).