Apple Unleashes Jaguar

You've already heard about the next version of Mac OS X's new features. But now that new version has a proper name, a price, a release date -- and a cute visual touch.

Due August 24, Apple is enamored enough with version 10.2's code-name, Jaguar, to integrate it into the final product itself. Mac OS X 10.2's box is labeled "Version 10.2 -- Jaguar" and features the familiar OS X "X" logo covered in a furry wild cat pattern.

Another mystery cleared up by Apple Wednesday: what it will charge for this update. While version 10.1 was available for only $20 shipping and handling, version 10.2 will cost $129. People who buy a Mac running OS X 10.1 between now and the Jaguar ship date will be able to upgrade to 10.2 for the $20 shipping-and-handling cost, Apple says.

If you're not familiar with Jaguar's tweaks and features, here's a quick reminder of what to expect when OS X 10.2 hits the shelves next month.

Scratching Out Features

It wouldn't be a Mac OS update without changes to the Finder. OS X 10.2 will return spring-loaded folders, a feature missing since OS 9 -- just drag an item onto a folder, pause for a moment, and that folder automatically opens, allowing you to navigate your file hierarchy with a minimum of clicks.

Another feature reappearing in 10.2's Finder is an integrated approach to finding files. Early demonstration versions of OS X included a search box in the Finder toolbar -- a feature that had been removed when Mac OS X finally arrived. Now it's back, allowing you to quickly find an item on your hard drive just by typing its name in a Finder window. Search results appear within your Finder window, and you can double-click on any of those items to open its enclosing folder. If you need to do a more complex file search (say, looking for a file modified on a particular date), you can bring up an advanced Find window by choosing Find from the File menu.

Other old OS 9 features back with this release of OS X include the Simple Finder, a simplified interface that also reduces the damage kids can do to your Mac; and USB Printer Sharing feature, which allows multiple computers to print to a USB printer connected to one of them. And OS 9's support for disabled users has started to transfer to OS X -- new Universal Access features include screen zooming and inverting, a basic screen reader, and visual notification of beeps.

Users in cross-platform environments will be happy to know that with the 10.2 update, OS X finally supports SMB (the Windows file sharing standard) properly: you'll be able to browse your local network for SMB servers from the Finder, and even share your hard drive as an SMB volume for your Windows friends to connect to. And if you rely on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect securely to your office or school network, there's more good news: 10.2 will offer built-in VPN support via PPTP.

Pouncing on Software

Several of Apple's own applications will be updated for 10.2, and the company is introducing an entirely new application as well. The newcomer is iChat, an instant messaging client that promises a highly Aquafied spin on AOL's Instant Messenger program, with which it's compatible. Messages from friends appear in small text bubbles, like the ones you'd find in a comic book. iChat's can automatically discover everyone else using iChat on your local network, meaning it will be easier than ever to communicate with co-workers without ever having to see them in person.

With its file-finding features returned to the Finder, Sherlock will transform into a Web-services search tool in 10.2. Sherlock III connects to Web-based services to let you search news and information sources, including a yellow-pages service. Web pages and other content appears right within the Sherlock window, meaning you don't have to keep switching to a Web browser to read anything, as you have to do in Sherlock today.

Apple's free Mail application also receives a refresh in 10.2. This new Mail will add greatly-improved filter support, intelligent spam filtering (featuring technology that learns to differentiate real mail from junk mail as you use it), searching across mailboxes, and support for secure mail connections.

Clawing into Technologies

With the launch of Mac OS X taken care of, Apple has turned its attention to creating some new technologies while updating a few standards. The 10.2 update will include QuickTime 6, the latest version of Apple's stalwart multimedia format. The Quartz drawing technology at the heart of OS X has also been updated, with dramatically improved compositing of video and 3-D objects on systems with AGP 2x video cards with 32MB of video memory.

Apple has replaced OS X's somewhat useless Address Book application with something much more dramatic -- a shared Address Book database that's meant to be a system-wide repository for personal information about a computer's user and everyone they know. Once applications are updated to support this new database, your Palm, e-mail program, Bluetooth-enabled cellular phone, and word processor could share the same contacts database.

OS X 10.2 also includes Inkwell, a new feature that lets users hand-write text and have it inserted in any text field. When you begin a pen stroke on, for example, a graphics tablet, a floating window resembling a yellow legal pad appears. After you stop writing, Inkwell transforms your handwriting into standard text. Will this mean that countless people will toss away their keyboards and turn to graphics tablets? Probably not -- but it could augur a new wave of touchscreen-enabled systems. Who knows? Maybe a tablet-based Mac is in our futures.

Apple's most interesting new technology in 10.2 is Rendezvous, also known as Zero-Configuration Networking. Proposed by Apple as a new computer industry standard, Renzevous allows devices on local networks to sense one another's presences and dynamically share data. Twice Steve Jobs has demonstrated a Rendezvous-savvy version of iTunes (a feature due early next year and not available in the newly released iTunes 3) running on a Power Mac: the software senses the presence of a PowerBook via AirPort, adds the PowerBook's music library to its own, and plays MP3s streamed over the network from the PowerBook. The Rendezvous technology is integrated in iChat, which can place all of a local network's users on a shared "buddy list" with one another.

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