A First Look
Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther”

As the masses await the Fed-Ex truck to deliver to their eager hands a copy of the latest Mac OS X release from Apple, Panther, MyMac.com presents our early, first-look at the eagerly awaiting OS.

First impressions: Wow, this thing is fast! Running 10.3 on an Apple Macintosh G5 1.8GHz, we noticed a huge speed boost to almost every finder-level task. Opening windows, scrolling large directories, accessing other machines over the network, you name it, it seemed faster. But lets take a look at some of the unique features in Panther.

Exposé. This is a very, very cool new feature that I am simply in love with. What does it do? Well, for the uninitiated, it gives you instant access to any open window from any program, including the finder. What Exposé does is makes every open window shrink on your screen, and you simply click the window you want to spring to the front. So what’s the big deal, you ask? Unlike the old Application window in Mac OS 9, which will only show you the applications running, this shows you all your open windows. So if you have three Safari windows open (I never do, I am in love with Tabs now) this will let you see every window. What’s more, when you put your cursor over the mini-windows, the name of the window is displayed. You really have to experience Exposé live to appreciate just how much it is going to change the way you use the Mac OS. The only drawback for me is that it does not show any windows you may have minimized to the dock.

To access Exposé, you first set it up in your system preferences pane. For myself, I have Exposé activate for all windows if I put my cursor in the upper-right hand of my screen. If I put my cursor in the lower right, only the front application (including the Finder) will show. By default, three F-Keys are also set to do the same. Even cooler, when you click F11, all open windows move out of the way to reveal the desktop, and stay out of the way until you call them back.

If you have a multi-button mouse, you can also assign mouse buttons to do the same. I personally use my extra mouse buttons to launch applications, but I could set it up so that the scroll wheel button moves everything out of the way for quick access to the desktop.

Exposé is one of those application that, like I said, better experienced than explained. I cannot get over how useful this is to how I would with my Mac. If it were not part of the OS, I would call this the next Killer App for the Mac.

Heads-up Application Switcher. This is yet another way to switch between applications without using Exposé or the Dock. Mac OS 9 also had it. All you do is hold down the command-tab keys to bring up a heads-up display of the open applications. You continue to hold down the command (Apple) key while you “Tab” to the application you want. I used the same method in Mac OS 9 for years, and fell in love with it. It is one of the most missed features for me in Mac OS X.

Welcome Back Labels! Yes, you can, finally, use labels in Mac OS X. But this, my friends, is labels on steroids! Labels work in all three views, Icons, List, or Columns. In Icon view, the label is a rich full color, rounded around the text. The icon itself is not colored, as it was is Mac OS 9. In List view, the color again does not apply to the icon, but to the entire line of the item labeled, so that the rounded colored bar extends across the entire windows. The same is true for Column view, but when you have clicked the labeled folder, the triangle keeps the label color. These may seem like not such a big deal, but they really are. Many, many people used labels to help find items, or to mark items that are of special importance, and it is a much-welcomed re-introduction to the Mac OS. Like Exposé, you really have to see the new labels in action to appreciate them.

Many people are all up in arms about the brushed metal look, which is used in all the iLife applications, now being carried throughout the finder as well. These worries are unfounded, in my opinion. While I actually like the look, you can toggle it off if you wish. You do, however, loose some of the new functionality of finder windows if you do. Rather than having application folders, favorite folders, document folder etcÉ at the top of each window, they are all now on the far left of your open windows. And they are all customizable. Personally, I think the new windows in Panther are a welcome improvement over the previous OS X windows.

One neat, though small, new feature is Apple put the often-used “Software Update” in the Apple menu. Clicking this simply opens the Software Update pane, but it does save one step in the process. A small update, sure, but one I have already gotten used to. And as the Apple menu is unchanged system-wide, you are always one click away from it.

Fast Switching. What is this? Well, if you share your computer with others, you will probably want to have multiple users accounts set up. A staple since the first release of Mac OS X, it was easy to switch to a different user. Now, however, it is even faster. When you activate “Enable Fast User Switching” in the “Accounts” pane in System Preferences, it puts the current users name in the upper right hand corner of your screen. It also puts in all the other names of any other user of your Mac. In my case, I have a “Basic” in which the system is basically as it would be fresh from the store. I also have one for my wife (even though she uses her own iMac, not my G5) and one named “Kids” which is for, obviously, my kids. (All they can do is create pictures in Illustrator or Photoshop, type up letters, and use Safari with bookmarks my wife and I approve, all others all deleted.)

So what happens when you click one of those names? You entire screen rotates; bring that user to the front. If the name is password protected, in brings up the log-on screen. And best of all, you can leave your account just as it is, with all the applications running, and switch users. When you switch back, everything is just as you left it. This is amazing technology I don’t think enough people utilize.

All in all, Panther is a great OS. Of course, there will be some applications that will not run correctly and need updating, but that is true for any major OS upgrade. I am very, very pleased with Mac OS X 10.3, and think that for those with a newer machine, you will appreciate the added speed benefits and stability. The new features all work really well, and I look forward to delving deeper into Panther in the coming months.

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