March 24: X-Day

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If you've followed Apple's efforts to bring a next-generation operating system to the Mac, then circle March 24 on your calendar - that's when Apple begins selling the finished version of Mac OS X for $129. And while the ship date may have been the flashiest OS X news out of Macworld Expo, it pales in importance beside the changes Apple is making to its operating system.

Apple Menu: In the OS X public beta, the Apple logo in the menu bar was just a monochromatic lump plopped down in the center. The logo has moved back to the left side of the screen and regained some functionality, with commands such as Sleep, Restart, Shut Down, and Log Out, as well as shortcuts to Dock preferences, the System Preferences panel, and Location Manager.

Finder:  The tool bar atop Finder windows is smaller. Users also can modify tool bars. Clicking on a new, white button on the far right of a window collapses the tool bar entirely, leaving an old-fashioned Finder-style window. With the tool bar closed, the Finder opens new windows just as it did in Mac OS 9.

The Dock:  Pop-up menus now appear when you click on and hold an icon in the Dock, replicating some of the functionality of OS 9's Control Strip. Clicking on a folder or drive icon, for example, lets you navigate through its contents via menus. Clicking on the Display Preferences icon lets you reset your monitor's resolution and bit depth on-the-fly.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs expects an "avalanche of Mac OS X apps" to appear in July. That's good news, because starting this summer, Apple will ship hardware with Mac OS X preinstalled - taking Mac users into the brave new world of OS X, whether they like it or not.

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