Apple Computer Inc.
will officially roll out
Mac OS X Panther
on Friday beginning at 8:00 pm ET on the East Coast, with events being held at most retail locations across the country throughout the evening. With over 150 new features, analysts think Panther could be the release that has businesses and Mac users that haven’t switched to Mac OS X ready to take the plunge.
“I think that many Mac users who have been reluctant to upgrade will find enough enhancements in Panther to convince them to finally make the leap,” Technology Business Research analyst, Tim Deal, told MacCentral. “Panther more represents a Mac OS X milestone versus a work-in-progress. Also, OS 9 users will see the innovation gap widen between them and Apple’s latest OS X release. This will compel many to choose this time to upgrade.”
Apple has made a lot of under-the-hood changes in Panther, but in typical Apple style, the things most people will notice are front and center. The Finder, Expose, iChat AV, new System Preferences and even a new look Apple logo all stand out the first time Panther starts.
Expose is probably one of the most talked about Panther features, since Steve Jobs first demoed it during his Worldwide Developer Conference keynote in June. Expose allows users to view all open windows and choose any one of them to be on top; Expose also unshuffles overlapping windows into an organized view.
“I think this is the biggest advance in the Mac interface since the Mac was created,” Ken Bereskin, director of Mac OS Product Marketing, told MacCentral.
While Expose moves a users applications and windows in a very graphical way, this is one of those cool features that also provides a huge benefit for the user. Once you get over the “cool factor” and stop activating it just to see your Windows disappear off the screen, you will realize just how useful a tool it can be.
Using Expose takes some adjustment in how you work — not being used to having the feature available, it may be hard to remember that it’s there for you. But once you do, you’ll wonder what you did without it.
“It just becomes a very natural way of using your system,” said Bereskin.
Expose is customizable to the users specifications. In the Preference panel, users can setup Expose to activate using the F Keys, the monitor corners, or if you use a third-party mouse, using the mouse buttons.
Expose also allows for other functions like clearing all of the applications and windows from your screen so you can see a file. Clicking and dragging on the file while activating Expose brings the windows back and you can put the file wherever you want.
Fast User Switching
Fast User Switching is another one of those features that you will find yourself playing with just to watch the window turn. Apple has a great implementation of user switching from a technology and graphically pleasing standpoint.
When you switch a user, all of your applications will stay open, your network connections remain active and anything you were working on will remain the way you left it. This is very important for parents, who can now safely share their Mac with kids while taking a break from the work they were doing, knowing they can safely come back and pick up where they left off.
The only network application that will log off is iChat — when you log back in, iChat will automatically reconnect to the server.
Switching has to be enabled in the System Preferences, but once it is the names of all users, and the active user, show up in the top menu by the clock. Switching requires you to pick a name from the pull down list and optionally type in a password. Using the 3D cube effect, the OS will take you to the desktop of another user.
“These fine points matter a lot to people,” said Bereskin. “You see visually that your account isn’t going away, it’s just being shifted — that visual cue matters a lot. When you use the equivalent on Windows XP, it’s very jarring — you don’t know what’s happened to your stuff.”
The Finder has been re-written, not totally, but Apple is providing enhancements to the Finder to speed up most operations.
Apple has redone the Finder so that it fits the user, not the user fitting the computer. Although I was skeptical at first, after using the new Finder it is quite an adjustment to go back to using Jaguar.
The new Finder window puts a list of your network and hard drives, as well as a list of your favorite places in the left hand column. Clicking on any item expands the view to the right, so you can navigate to the file or folder you are looking for. You can also drag and drop files using this view by holding the file on top of a folder until it opens, showing you all of the folders to the right.
“Once you use Panther for a couple of days, you won’t know what you ever did without the new Finder,” said Bereskin. “We hit a magical combination of respecting the well laid out file system that Mac OS X has and breaking down the presentation so users have access to the things they use all the time in the left-hand column.”
Not only will you find your iDisk in the left hand column of your Finder Window, you can find your entire iDisk on your hard drive. Panther provides an option to allow an iDisk member to make a local copy of the files on their local drive.
There are a couple of benefits to having your iDisk stored locally. First, if you store or open files on your iDisk, you are at the mercy of your network connection — when you work from a local copy, you can work as fast as your hard drive will let you.
The other benefit is the bidirectional sync implemented in Panther for iDisk. If you save a file to you local iDisk folder, it will automatically be uploaded to your iDisk in the background. If, for some reason, you don’t have a network connection at that time, Panther will upload any changed files the next time you do have a connection.
If, for example, you are traveling and didn’t get a chance to take the new files from your desktop computer, you can connect your notebook to a network and it will recognize that there are newer files on the iDisk and download them in the background.
Mac OS X has always had a very intuitive way of identifying printers, but that will get better with Panther. Hundreds of print drivers ship with Panther from Epson, HP and Lexmark. Apple has also packaged the GimpPrint drivers.
“If you are using Panther, you’ve got a really good chance of having a driver for the printer you’re connecting to,” said Bereskin.
Apple also implemented a new technology called PostScript PDF, which will allow Panther to share a printer over a Windows network. When you share a printer on a Windows network, it shows up as a network PostScript printer, even though it may only be a USB inkjet. On the Windows desktop you see a network PostScript — you print the job and the Windows machine generates the PostScript and sends it to the Mac. With Panther’s PostScript to PDF technology the Mac converts it to a PDF, which is the native printer format the Mac uses, and the print job is rendered using the drivers on the Mac.
FileVault and Secure delete
FileVault secures a users Home directory content with 128-bit AES encryption — a feature driven by mobile users’ need to secure their data in case their laptops are lost or stolen. Files are encrypted and decrypted on the fly, enabling users to keep content secure without interrupting access to their work.
“You can be sure that if you are not the person in possession of your PowerBook, your files will be safe,” said Bereskin.
The previous standard for encryption was DES 56-bit. Bereskin explained that if you had a Supercomputer that was capable of cracking the DES algorithm in one minute, that amount of CPU power would require 149,000,000,000 years to do a brute force attack and work through all of potential keys for 128-bit AES.
When you turn on FileVault, you must supply two passwords: a Master password and a user password. Once activated, you will be logged out of Panther while the files in your Home folder are encrypted — the reverse process happens when you turn off FileVault.
Having the Master password is a plus for corporations, so managers can retrieve data on a computer of an employee that is no longer with the company or if an employee forgets their own password. But, if you lose both passwords, you are out of luck.
“If you lose your password, there is no Genius at any retail store or AppleCare person that’s going to be able to help you. There are no backdoors to the encryption technology,” said Bereskin.
Panther also adds a seven-pass Secure Delete function, giving users the ability to delete files without the worry of having another person retrieve them from the hard drive.
Giving back to the Unix community
Apple has given source code back to several open source projects including the company’s new Web browser Safari, Rendezvous, and Darwin. With the release of Panther Apple is giving to the Unix community again, but this time it’s not source code.
“We get huge benefits from the Unix community in terms of bringing scripting languages to Mac OS X,” said Bereskin. “With Panther we’re giving back to the Unix community by giving them access to the great graphics technologies in Mac OS X from the command line.”
Apple has implemented Scriptable Image Processing Service (SIPS), which is a command line equivalent of ImageEvents, currently available through AppleScript. SIPS will allow Unix users to convert image files to and from any graphic file format recognized by the Mac OS, as well as perform resizing, cropping, rotate, ColorSync color management and other tasks, all from the command line.
With Panther, Apple is also exposing the functionality of the Quartz engine to the Python scripting language. From a cgi invoked application you can collect data from a database and then build a PDF on the fly using graphics including transparency, fonts and layouts and produce a PDF — this can be setup in a number of ways including having a user click a link on Web page.
Apple feels that the Unix community is now accepting them and their contributions to open source projects, whereas before the community was a bit more skeptical of their motives.
“It took a little bit of time for the community to get used to Apple,” said Bereskin. “I think because we’ve now built up a great track record by providing the source openly and extending projects like Rendezvous and Safari, that most people will grant that Apple is in the game for the right reasons — our track record speaks for itself and everyone has benefited.”
Mail: Junk that Spam
Spam: the curse of the email world that affects almost every person that has ever written an email. There seems to be little we can do to stop it at the source, so the other alternative is to try to control it when it comes into our computer.
Apple’s Mail application has undergone some big changes that will help users get rid of spam in a more effective way. Bereskin said the Junk Mail Filters in Panther are much more sophisticated and “much more effective than they were in Jaguar.”
“This is our own technology — the language analysis comes from the Speech Recognition team,” said Bereskin. “We use the same approach they have for voice recognition to get the full contents of a message and create a mathematical model for the Junk Filters.”
Mail also introduces “organize by thread” giving users a new way to display email messages. Organizing messages in a thread gives you instant access to an entire discussion from a group or a single person — even if the message thread is old, when a new message comes in, the whole thread moves to the top of your mailbox.
Is that a Word File?
Sometimes it’s the little things that matter. Panther introduces a new feature in what may be one of the least used applications on a Mac, TextEdit.
A simple text editor, TextEdit now has the ability to open and save files in Microsoft Word format. Word files that I had on my computer opened and retained all of the formatting — I was also able to save a file as a Word document from TextEdit and again all formatting was retained.
More in the Box
Panther has many more cool and useful features than I could possibly go into here, but so far it has provided fast Finder speed, fast application launching and some great new technologies that are fun and make me more productive.
Images in the story were taken using