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Introduction > What's New in Panther

What's New in Panther

The main thing you gain by adopting Mac OS X is stability. You and your Mac may go for years without ever witnessing a system crash. Oh, it's technically possible for Mac OS X to crash, but that's an extremely rare event. Rumors of such crashes circulate on the Internet like Bigfoot sightings. (If it happens to you, chances are good you've got a flaky hardware add-on. Turn promptly to Appendix B And by the way: Your programs may crash, too, but that doesn't affect the Mac overall. You just reopen the program and carry on.)

Underneath the gorgeous, translucent desktop of Mac OS X is Unix, the industrial-strength, rock-solid OS that drives many a Web site and university. It's not new by any means; in fact, it's decades old, and has been polished by generations of programmers. That's the very reason Steve Jobs and his team chose it as the basis for the NeXT operating system (which Jobs worked on during his twelve years away from Apple), which Apple bought in 1997 to turn into Mac OS X.

But crash resistance is only the big-ticket item. The list below identifies a few of the key enhancements in Panther. (Apple says it added 150 new features to Mac OS X 10.3. The truth is, Apple undercounted.)

All About "Panther"

What's this business about Panther?

Most software companies develop their wares in secret, using code names to refer to new products to throw outsiders off the scent. Apple's code names for Mac OS X and its descendants have been named after big cats: Mac OS X was Cheetah, 10.1 was Puma, and 10.2 was Jaguar.

Usually, the code name is dropped as soon as the product is complete, whereupon the marketing department gives it a new name. In Mac OS X 10.3's case, though, Apple thought that its cat names was cool enough to retain for the finished product. It even seems to suggest the new system's speed and power.

You do have to wonder what Apple plans to call future versions. Apple increases only the decimal point with each major upgrade, which means it has six big cats to go before it hits Mac OS XI.

Let's see: Bobcat, Cougar, Leopard, Lion...Tiger...um... Ocelot?

  • Desktop features. Mac OS X in general makes navigating disks and folders extremely easy, thanks to features like the Dock, the Finder-window toolbar, and column view, which lets you burrow deeply into nested folders without leaving a trail of open windows.

    In version 10.3, the Finder achieves maturity, turning from a squeaky-voiced teenager to a star college athlete. It's faster than previous versions of Mac OS X, for starters. The new Sidebar is a huge idea. It eliminates much folder navigation altogether, because one click reveals the contents of any frequently used folder or disk you park there.

    Other new touches include color labels that you can use to categorize your icons, a brushed-metal look for all disk and folder windows, and an Action pop-up menu (shaped like a gear) that brings the power of contextual (Control-key) menus to people who didn't even know they existed.

  • Security. In an age when viruses and hackers are taking all the fun out of PCs, it's great to be on Mac OS X. To date, not a single Mac OS X virus has emerged—partly because the Mac represents a smaller "audience" for virus writers, and partly because the Mac's technical plumbing is more difficult to penetrate.

    In Panther, Apple has capitalized on Mac OS X's reputation for security by adding Secure Empty Trash (which deletes files you've put into the Trash, then scrubs the spot on the hard disk seven times with random gibberish to prevent recovery); FileVault (which encrypts your Home folder when you log out, so that nobody can access your files by restarting from another disk); and a new feature that closes down your account after a specified period of inactivity (so that the guy in the next cubicle can't rifle through your stuff when you step away to the bathroom).

  • Timesavers. You no longer have to close out your account if somebody else in your family, school, or business wants to duck in to check their own email. Thanks to Fast User Switching, you can keep your programs and documents open in the background, even while somebody else logs in.

    Extremely Quartz

    When you use Fast User Switching to change accounts, your entire screen appears to rotate off the monitor to the left, as though it's on the face of a giant cube.

    You're witnessing Mac OS X's powerful graphics technologies at work—Quartz Extreme (for two-dimensional graphics) and OpenGL (for three-dimensional graphics). These are the same technologies that give you smooth-looking (antialiased) lettering everywhere on the screen, translucence (of open menus, the Dock, and other onscreen elements), smoothly crossfading slideshows in iPhoto and the screen saver, and the ability to turn any document on the screen into an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file (Section 13.6).

    Quartz Extreme works by offloading graphics calculations to your Mac's video card to make them even faster.

    Note, though, that not all Macs benefit from Quartz Extreme. Your Mac's video card must be on The List: GeForce2 MX, GeForce3, GeForce4 MX, and GeForce4 Ti cards, or any "AGP-based ATI Radeon" card. Unfortunately, this list excludes colored iBook models, the white iBooks sold in 2001 and 2002, G3 desktops, early G4 desktops, some fruitcolored iMac models, and older PowerBooks.

    Exposé is another important advance in navigating today's cluttered screens. It provides a single keystroke that shrinks and arranges all windows in all programs, so that you can click the thumbnail miniature you want and bring it to the front. (As you'll find out in Section 4.3, it's nothing like the Tile command in Windows.) Another Exposé keystroke shoves all open windows off to the edges of the screen for a moment, so that you can duck back to your Finder desktop to create a folder, burn a CD, locate a file, and so on.

    Mac OS X: The Buzzword-Compliant Operating System

    You can't read an article about Mac OS X without hearing certain technical buzzwords that were once exclusively the domain of computer engineers. Apple is understandably proud that Mac OS X offers all of these sophisticated, state-of-the-art operating system features. Unfortunately, publicizing them means exposing the rest of us to a lot of fairly unnecessary geek terms. Here's what they mean:

    Preemptive multitasking. Most people know that multitasking means "doing more than one thing at once." The Mac has always been capable of making a printout, downloading a file, and letting you type away in a word processor, all at the same time.

    Unfortunately, the Mac OS 7/8/9 (and Windows 95/98/Me) version of multitasking works by the rule of the playground: the bully gets what he wants. If one of your programs insists on hogging the attention of your Mac's processor (because it's crashing, for example), it leaves the other programs gasping for breath. This arrangement is called cooperative multitasking. Clearly, it works only if your programs are in fact cooperating with each other.

    Mac OS X's preemptive multitasking system brings a teacher to the playground to make sure that every program gets a fair amount of time from the Mac's processor. The result is that the programs get along much better, and a poorly written or crashing program isn't permitted to send the other ones home crying.

    Multithreading. Multithreading means "doing more than one thing at once," too, but in this case it's referring to a single program. Even while iMovie is rendering (processing) a special effect, for example, it lets you continue editing at the same time. Not all Mac OS 9 programs offered this feature, but all programs written especially for Mac OS X do. (Note, however, that programs that are simply adapted for Mac OS X—"Carbonized" software, as described in Section 4.8—don't necessarily offer this feature.)

    Symmetrical multiprocessing. Macs containing more than one processor chip are nothing new. But before Mac OS X, only specially written software—Adobe Photoshop filters, for example—benefited from the speed boost.

    No more. Mac OS X automatically capitalizes on multiple processors, sharing the workload of multiple programs (or even multithreaded tasks within a single program), meaning that every Mac OS X program gets accelerated. Mac OS X is smart enough to dole out processing tasks evenly, so that both (or all) of your processors are being put to productive use.

    Dynamic memory allocation. Mac OS X programs don't have fixed RAM allotments. The operating system giveth and taketh away your programs' memory in real time, so that no RAM is wasted. For you, this system means better stability, less hassle.

    Memory protection. In Mac OS X, every program runs in its own indestructible memory bubble—another reason Mac OS X is so much more stable than its predecessors. If one program crashes, it isn't allowed to poison the well of RAM that other programs might want to use. Programs may still freeze or quit unexpectedly; the world will never be entirely free of sloppy programmers. But instead of a message that says, "Save open documents and restart," you'll be delighted to find that you can go right on working. You can even open up the program that just died and pick up right where you left off.

    You can now send and receive faxes right from the Mac, too, using Apple's first homegrown, fully integrated faxing software.

  • Networking. When it comes to hooking up your Mac to other computers, including those on the Internet, few operating systems can match Mac OS X. It offers advanced features like multihoming, which keeps all networking connections (via Ethernet cable, AirPort wireless card, dial-up modem, Bluetooth cellphone, and even Firewire cable) open simultaneously. For laptop lovers, that means that your laptop can switch automatically and invisibly from its cable modem settings to its dial-up modem settings when you take it on the road.

    In Mac OS X 10.3, you can still connect to another networked computer using the Go→Connect to Server command. But there's a far easier way now: Just click the Network icon in the Sidebar. It reveals all of the Macs and PCs on your home, school, or office network, without your having to configure anything or know their addresses.

  • Accessory programs. Perhaps the least publicized new Panther feature is the set of upgrades Apple made to the 50 accessory programs that come with the Mac.

    For example, iChat AV (ordinarily $30) comes with Panther, making it possible for you to conduct free long-distance phone calls and even video calls over the Internet. A new program called Font Book acts like a junior version of Font Reserve or Suitcase; it reveals all of your fonts, makes it simple to install or remove them, and lets you switch off sets of fonts at will.

    The TextEdit word processor now offers style sheets, and it can create and open full-fledged, true-blue Microsoft Word documents. Preview, which began life as a humble graphics viewer/converter, is now a fast, powerful PDF reader like Adobe Acrobat Reader (which no longer comes with Mac OS X).

    Image Capture can operate Epson scanners and many others—and it offers a mind-blowing new spycam feature using an ordinary digital camera. The Mail email program and Safari Web browser have been beefed up, too. And the humble Calculator now has a graphing mode, although you have to unlock it yourself, as described in Chapter 9.

The complete list of changes in Mac OS X 10.3 would fill a book—in fact, you're holding it. But some of the nicest changes aren't so much new features as renewals. Panther comes with an even more full-blown collection of printer drivers, for example, and the latest versions of its underlying Unix security and Internet software.

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