Mac OS X Evolves

More than a year after its release, Mac OS X has grown from a curiosity into a full-fledged operating system. Even ardent classic-OS loyalists recognize that the future of the Mac lies in OS X. Apple's latest OS X update--code-named Jaguar and expected by the end of the summer--can't be described in mere bug fixes and interface tweaks. It brings new applications, new features, and exciting new technologies to OS X: it's an important step in Mac OS's evolution.

This article is an updated version of the one which appeared in our August 2002 issue; it's now based on the final, shipping version of Jaguar.

Interface Changes

OS X's interface can evolve in two basic ways: Apple can restore classic Mac OS features or strike off in new interface directions made possible by OS X's power. In Jaguar, we'll get a bit of both.

Spring-Loaded: With the help of shareware developers, many OS 9 features (including a customizable Apple menu, the application-switching menu, and the ability to windowshade on-screen windows) have already returned to OS X. But some features require OS support that only Apple can provide. One such feature is spring-loaded folders, which let you use the Finder to navigate quickly through multiple levels of your hard drive.

Here's how it works: You select an item in the Finder and drag it on top of a folder, without releasing your mouse button. After a brief pause, the folder's window opens, and you can drop the item inside or drag it onto a folder within that window. That process can continue until you reach the most deeply nested folder. You can toggle the feature on and off from the Finder's Preferences window, where you can also set the length of hovering time required before a folder pops open.

Find with Finder: Until now, the Mac's Finder has been poorly named, as it has never been particularly good at finding files. That changes with Jaguar, which moves file-finding capabilities out of Sherlock and into the Finder.

An early development version of OS X sported a search box built into the Finder's toolbar. This seemed like a great idea, but the feature was conspicuously absent when OS X shipped. Now that box is back--just type the name of the file you want and press return: the Finder searches every folder within the currently selected folder. A list of results appears in the same Finder window. Simply double-click on an item in the list to open it. You'll find more powerful searching features behind the Find command in the Finder's File menu. From here, you can search your entire hard drive and make complicated searches based on several criteria.

Smarter Dock: One of OS X's most polarizing features is the Dock. Some hail it as an interface innovation; others think it just gets in the way. Dock-haters beware--the Dock remains in Jaguar. But it looks a little different: it now has a transparent background. Minimized windows appear with the appropriate application icons attached to their lower right corners; you can close those windows from the Dock by control-clicking or choosing Close.

Get Info Returns: In OS X 10.0, Get Info's name changed to Show Info. In Jaguar, the Get Info window has returned--with a major face-lift. All the information about your Finder selection is viewable via a series of disclosure triangles (and as many segments as you'd like can be open at once), rather than appearing in parts behind a pop-up-menu interface. And Get Info lets you set permissions for files and folders, although you need an administrator password to change a file's owner or group.

Smaller Touches: Jaguar's Finder also offers a few tweaks and improvements on a smaller scale. When you open and close windows, you no longer see rectangular outlines of your window swooshing in and out--instead, the entire contents of the windows zoom in and out, as if they were being minimized or maximized. You can now use the keyboard to navigate through Open and Save dialog boxes. The size of the text in every Finder window is now adjustable. The Finder can generate thumbnail previews of many more file formats. And the green Resize button on Finder windows now works properly when you're resizing a window in Icon view, automatically reducing the window to the smallest size that still displays all your icons.

The Preference Shuffle: OS X 10.1 reorganized the placement of icons in the System Preferences application; with Jaguar, there's even more movement, as new preference panes arrive and others depart.

In Jaguar, adjusting user preferences is more straightforward. You don't need the Users pane unless you're creating or removing users (and you have an administrator password). You now drag items that you want to launch automatically at login to the new Login Items pane, formerly a tab within the Users pane. And the new My Account pane lets you alter basic user settings such as your name, picture, and contact information.

Universal Access and Sharing have major updates in Jaguar. Universal Access promises to improve the OS X experience for disabled users (see "Macs without Limits," May 2002). With the help of settings in Universal Access, you can use a few keyboard shortcuts to zoom in and out or invert your screen's colors. And instead of a system beep, a white flash that goes across your entire screen can get your attention.

The Sharing pane's tabbed interface has been overhauled. The Services tab lets you turn OS X's numerous built-in server features (file sharing, FTP, Web sharing, Telnet, printer sharing, and more) on and off. The Firewall tab finally brings an Apple-supplied interface to OS X's built-in firewall, previously configurable only via shareware programs. The Firewall interface is simple but highly configurable, allowing you to protect custom ports and offering several presets for commonly used networking software, including Timbuktu and Retrospect. The Internet tab allows you to share an Internet connection among various Macs, whether they're on a single Ethernet network or even wirelessly via AirPort.

Other updated panes include Energy Saver, where you can now choose and create preference presets; Network, which helps AirPort-enabled systems to better find a network when they wake up; Classic, which now lets different OS X users use their own OS 9 preferences; and Date And Time, which now lets you turn the 24-hour clock on and off without going to the International pane.

New Software

Jaguar is about more than interface enhancements. As a part of this release, Apple is introducing a new application and providing major updates to existing programs.

Apple-Style Chat: The new iChat application is Apple's take on instant messaging. Functionally, iChat is much like AOL Instant Messenger--in fact, they both use AOL's instant-messaging service. But iChat has a highly stylized interface that includes comic strip-style word balloons for message text. In addition to standard buddy lists, iChat shows everyone on your network who's logged in to iChat--making it easy to send notes to logged-in friends or coworkers, even if you don't know their nicknames or have them in your Buddy List.

Sherlock Reborn: With Find features appropriately moved to the Finder, Sherlock has been transformed into a tool that gets information via Web services. Jaguar's Sherlock--which appears to be an entirely new application--works by taking your requests for information and querying Internet servers to find the answers. For example, this version of Sherlock can show you all the movies playing near you, look up words in a dictionary, find someone in the online yellow pages, and even let you track a package.

To be fair, many of these features have existed in various tools before, most notably Karelia Software's $29 Watson (www.karelia.com), which provides almost exactly the same search features as the prerelease version of Sherlock we saw.

Remade Mail: With the first version of OS X, Apple introduced Mail, a free e-mail program with a basic set of features. Jaguar brings a new version of Mail with significantly improved functionality. Perhaps its most promising new feature is intelligent filtering, which analyzes a message's content and decides whether it's spam. By default, this feature is set to training mode, meaning that you see all your mail and can tell Mail whether a message is in fact spam. Once Mail learns from your cues to differentiate between spam and valid e-mail, you can switch to the Mail filter's automatic mode, and it will divert spam into a separate mailbox.

Other new features in Mail include more-flexible mail rules, the ability to merge multiple accounts into one set of mailboxes, the ability to perform a search across multiple mailboxes, and several security improvements, including support for SSL and Kerberos.

New Technologies

An operating system is more than its interface and collected applications--its underlying technologies often determine how usable it is. With Jaguar, Apple introduces several intriguing technologies that promise to take the Mac in new directions.

Address Book: For years, Mac OS has had a repository of preferences that allows every Internet-using program on your Mac to have a common frame of reference. For example, if you change your e-mail address in your Internet preferences, every program knows about it. With Jaguar, Apple has applied that concept to something a little more touchy-feely than TCP/IP settings: human beings.

The home of Apple's new shared database of information about people is Address Book, a mostly useless program in previous versions of OS X. Now Address Book information is accessible by any program that has been modified to support this new system. Your e-mail program can use the Address Book database to store e-mail addresses; Apple's iChat instant-messaging program can store screen names; a contact manager can add addresses and other information.

Keeping a master Address Book means that if you update a person's information in one place, it's updated everywhere. Say a friend sends you an e-mail message with her new e-mail address and phone number. After you update that information once on your Mac, it will appear everywhere--including devices that sync with your Mac, such as Palm organizers and cell phones.

Quartz Extreme: You may not notice the new imaging technology that Apple has dubbed Quartz Extreme, but if you've got the required hardware--a recent AGP 2x video card with 32MB of memory--all the video on your Mac, including 2-D, 3-D, and video, will be accelerated by your video hardware. Since all video content is run through the single Quartz Extreme pipeline, Jaguar can perform compositing tricks Mac OS could only dream of before. For example, when Quartz Extreme is enabled, DVD video can shine through partially transparent windows and menus, continue to play as it's minimized into the Dock, and even play inside the Dock itself.

Half-Newton: When Steve Jobs killed the Newton handheld computer, a lot of handwriting-recognition software--which had gotten pretty sophisticated, despite many people's memories of the device's early days--died with it. Or so we thought. But as Jobs said in May when he unveiled Jaguar, "You'd think spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Newton would get us something." That something turns out to be Inkwell, a new handwriting-recognition technology. Using a graphics tablet and Inkwell, you can turn your handwriting into editable text--a yellow legal-pad window appears as you write.

Illustrators and designers often have graphics tablets, but many other people probably won't buy a graphics tablet just to get handwriting recognition on their Macs. We assume that Apple has grander plans for Inkwell. Its appearance augurs the appearance of Macs with integrated touch-screens, or even a tablet-shaped Mac with a pen as its primary interface. With Inkwell, those hardware possibilities are a little closer to reality.

Networking and Security

OS X 10.1 added several features that improved networking and compatibility with Windows PCs. Jaguar takes those capabilities one step further and throws in some other improvements for OS X workgroups, particularly those in the education market.

Rendezvous: One great asset of AppleTalk networking is that all you need to do to get it working is plug in a bunch of computers. They'll automatically sense one another, without routers, DHCP servers, or any intervention from a networking expert. Apple has long been committed to moving from AppleTalk to TCP/IP, the language of Internet networks--but TCP/IP's inability to create self-configuring networks has been a constant frustration.

Now Apple is a driving force behind ZeroConf, a proposed Internet standard that can create such networks. Apple's implementation of that technology, Rendezvous, will make its first appearance in Jaguar.

What will Rendezvous mean to you? It may usher in a whole new era of interoperability, because networked devices will be able to sense the presence of other devices nearby and swap information with them.

Apple has repeatedly demonstrated a Rendezvous-enabled version of iTunes (due next year): When a PowerBook running iTunes woke from sleep near a Power Mac, the PowerBook's iTunes Library appeared in a window on the Power Mac. That Power Mac could browse and play music from the PowerBook, streamed over the network from one Mac to the other.

That's an interesting example, but Rendezvous's killer feature is probably not iTunes sharing, or even iChat's ability to create an automatic buddy list of iChat users on your local network. With Rendezvous, Apple has developed a framework for on-the-fly data sharing; now it's up to some enterprising programmers to blow us away with Rendezvous's killer app.

Cross-Platform Improvements: OS X has been able to connect to Windows servers via the standard Windows SMB/CIFS protocols for some time now--but those features have been hidden away and not particularly easy to use. With Jaguar, connecting to a Windows file server is as easy as connecting to a Mac: they all show up in the Finder's Connect To Server window. Even better, when you turn on File Sharing via the Sharing preference pane, your Mac doesn't just offer up your files to Macs--it also runs an SMB server, allowing PCs to connect to your Mac without any special software. With Jaguar, Macs will be able to coexist on PC-dominated networks right out of the box, with no additional software necessary.

VPN Connections: If you've ever tried to connect to your office's servers from your Mac at home, you've probably run into the downside of having a company firewall: legitimate users outside the office network are shut out just as effectively as hackers are. The solution is VPN (Virtual Private Network), which allows outside computers to route their network traffic through an encrypted connection to a private office network.

Mac support for VPN has been spotty in OS 9 and OS X. But with Jaguar, Apple is attempting to natively support the most-common VPN protocols: IPsec and PPTP, often used by Microsoft VPN servers.

Workgroup Features: Other features that will be of particular interest to administrators of Mac workgroups and computer labs include the re-introduction of the Simple Finder (a simplified version of the Mac interface), the ability to install system software and boot OS X from remote file servers, and the return of USB Printer Sharing, which allows multiple Macs to share a single USB printer.

The Last Word

Every operating system must evolve or risk becoming irrelevant. With Mac OS X, Apple has to carefully balance the addition of innovative features with productivity boosts and bug fixes. Jaguar addresses both needs in exciting ways.

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