Just as Microsoft became entrenched with Windows XP, so too did Apple's popular Mac OS X version 10.4 develop a shelf life. Released in April 2005, Mac OS X version 10.4 (known as Tiger) introduced the Spotlight integrated desktop search feature, a new Dashboard that popularized widget use, an updated Safari Web browser, and more. However, Mac OS X version 10.5 experienced delays in its announced release.
Featuring more than 300 updates and improvements, the new "Leopard" release packs several significant enhancements. In addition to including a new Time Machine automated backup utility, the updated operating system boasts Spotlight search capability across multiple systems, the Front Row and Photo Booth applications introduced with Tiger on Intel-powered systems, virtual desktop "Spaces" that enable users to maintain multiple desktop with specific applications running simultaneously, the addition of RSS, stationery and other new features to Mail, and much more. Here's a deeper look at some of the many new features and enhancements Apple is putting into Leopard.
Apple's dual-boot utility, which enables running Windows installations on the same systems hosting Mac OS X, debuted as optional downloads when Intel-powered Macs arrived. The application will now ship with OS X by default.
The new Apple desktop is designed to "showcase" user's photos and graphics as desktop backgrounds. A newly redesigned Dock features greater transparency, so as to not distract from user's desktop images, which enjoy a cleaner desktop.
Mac's Finder, equivalent to Windows Explorer or My Computer, is treated to a new iTunes-like interface designed to simplify data access. Whereas the Cover Flow view in iTunes displays the cover image of an album (with the album's musical contents beneath), the new Finder will present preview views of files within the same space that iTunes displays cover images. As a result, users can now flip through file preview images when seeking specific documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other files. Figure A shows what the new Finder looks like in Leopard.
Apple's Front Row, which debuted with Intel-powered Macs in 2006, becomes standard fare with the Leopard release. The Front Row feature enables remotely navigating common options, including accessing music, movies, photos, and more.
iCal, the Mac's default calendar tool, receives several updates with Leopard's release. Boasting a new interface that focuses on a clean and uncluttered look just like the new Mac desktop, a new iTunes-like sidebar assists Mac users in navigating calendar items. Sharing files with attendees is as simple as dragging-and-dropping files into respective events. When e-mail invitations are forwarded to attendees, any added files are included as attachments. Keep in mind that this functionality is similar to that found in Microsoft Office, whereas iCal is the default calendar tool included with Mac OS X and doesn't require an additional license.
Also new in iCal is support for group calendaring, in which meetings can be scheduled for multiple users, resources (such as meeting rooms) and even equipment (such as LCD projectors) can be booked directly from within iCal. Based on the CalDAV standard, an iCal Server is required to power the group calendaring functionality. With an iCal Server in place, however, users can also browse other staff's schedules to review available free time necessary for scheduling new meetings.
Users that rely upon iChat to power instant messaging sessions will find Photo Booth integration within Mac OS X version 10.5. Users can apply Photo Booth effects to chat sessions, or they can present entire Keynote presentations within the instant messaging application. iChat sessions can also be recorded (including capturing both audio and video) and saved for later review.
Apple's standard Mail application receives upgrades as well. In Mac OS X 10.5, the default e-mail client supports numerous stationery templates. The mail client also adds support for virtual sticky notes (which can be accessed from any Internet-connected Mac or PC).
In the past, Apple's Mail application provided e-mail functionality. With the new Leopard release, however, To-Do functionality is added. Users can simply highlight wording within e-mail messages describing tasks they need to perform (such as Prepare quarterly report), right-click the highlighted text, and create a To-Do item. Since the To-Dos are stored within e-mail, users can access those tasks from any Internet-connect Mac or PC as well.
Mail also benefits from RSS support. By subscribing to RSS feeds within Mail, Leopard users will know whenever a new article, blog post or other entry is published. Further, using Mail, users can create Smart Mailboxes to better help organize RSS feeds. And since Mail shares RSS feed coordination responsibilities with Apple's built-in Safari Web browser, users are assured reading lists will remain synchronized.
Apple's new Quick Look feature enables viewing a file's contents before opening the file. Similar to the Flip 3D feature in Windows Vista that permits users to view the contents of multiple open Windows, Quick Look permits Mac users to view the contents of files (including documents, spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs, and even videos) without having to open each file. Thus, these short "sneak peek" glimpses make it much easier for users to find specific files they seek more quickly on a Mac hard disk.
Typically a consumer feature, Leopard provides expanded parental controls for Mac users. New content filters help Leopard protect children from inappropriate Web content, while bedtime and usage limits can be easily configured to police the amount of time children spend on the computer. Further, Leopard-powered systems can now log the Web sites children visit, the contents of chat sessions, and even the applications run.
Largely a consumer-focused feature, Apple's Photo Booth adds stock photography to help dress up Photo Booth sessions. In addition to creating user photos, which might be linked as an iChat buddy image, Photo Booth also supports creating and sharing video snippets. While Photo Booth's audio and video quality isn't professional grade, the feature provides users with a simple method of quickly and easily creating basic audio and video files.
Apple's Web browser, Safari, receives an upgrade in Leopard: Safari 3.0 is loaded by default within the next Mac OS X release. Providing improved performance, additional security controls (such as a private browsing feature that disables caching of personal data, among other information), inline PDF support, and more, the browser provides Mac users with a more reliable and consistent Web browsing experience.
Apple's new Stacks feature is among new Desktop enhancements designed to add to the Mac's stunning visual appearance. As the Desktop often serves as the location in which documents, spreadsheets, programs, and other files are stored, it quickly becomes cluttered. Apple's designers worked to help consolidate such files and clean the Mac's desktop appearance in the process.
The result is Stacks, which enables users to collect similar objects in "stacks," or folders that live on the Mac's Dock. When a new item arrives (such as an e-mail or document) within a Stack, the Mac signals the user the file is present. To view the item, users need only click the relevant stack icon and a graceful animated arc displays the contents of that stack.
Recognizing that users manage different kinds of data, from office-related work to editing personal e-mail messages, Apple designers have included support for separate desktops on Mac OS X version 10.5. By dragging active windows into separate Spaces, Mac users can segregate applications and programs by topic.
For example, an employee working from home might wish to create a work-related Space in which their VPN connection is active and work-related applications are up and running. A second Space might be dedicated to sending personal e-mail and surfing the Web, while yet a third Space could be devoted to music or entertainment-related activities (such as viewing a DVD movie).
Navigating between Spaces is simple. Leopard places placeholder icons on the Dock for each Space.
In addition to refining Spotlight performance and the interactive menu users leverage to perform desktop searches, Apple developers tweaked Spotlight to support searching multiple systems in Mac OS X version 10.5. Using a new sidebar, results will be categorized in Leopard.
Time Machine is among one of the most important upgrades Leopard features. The new backup application simplifies data protection. Whenever a compatible backup device is found (such as a simple external USB drive), by stating one wishes to use Time Machine, Mac OS X version 10.5 automatically configures backup operations.
Unlike Windows, which requires users to specify which files, folders, and drives should be backed up, when the backups should occur, what type of back operation should be run (Normal vs. Differential vs. Incremental), Leopard simply backs everything up. Everything from programs and applications to accounts, system preferences, and other data is backed up automatically.
Further, Time Machine provides a feature similar toWindows Restore, enabling users to return to specific system configurations as they existed on a specific date. However, unlike Windows, Leopard enables returning an entire system to a specific date, recovering a copy of a single file from a specific date or restoring a folder or folders to a specific date. Using Time Machine, Mac users can also encrypt backups and specify storage limit settings to help manage the amount of disk space dedicated to backups.
Universal Access improvements
Leopard includes bolstered accessibility features, too. Besides adding a new voice that speaks more naturally at a faster pace, support has been added for Braille displays and note-taking devices. Further, voice-over commands can now be associated with numeric keypad keys using NumPad Commander.
Apple's VoiceOver feature now accentuates "hot spots" by monitoring for active windows and notifying users (via sound clues) whenever notifications or alerts are displayed on screen. VoiceOver also assists visually impaired users in navigating applications and onscreen menus.
Other accessibility improvements include expanded closed-captioning support within QuickTime, more applications (including iChat) that "speak" on screen text and VoiceOver support for .Mac online Internet and e-mail accounts.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.