Without a doubt, Mac OS X is a stunning technical achievement. In fact, many tech reviewers and experts call it the best personal-computer operating system on earth. But beware its name.
The X is meant to be a Roman numeral, pronounced "ten." Don't say "oh ess sex." You'll get funny looks in public.
In any case, Mac OS X Leopard is the sixth major version of Apple' s Unix-based operating system. It is not, however, the Mac operating system that saw Apple through the 1980s and 1990s, the one that was finally retired when it was called Mac OS 9. Apple dumped that one in 2001; in Leopard, even fewer traces of it remain.
Why did Apple throw out the operating system that made it famous to begin with? Well, through the years, as Apple piled new features onto a software foundation originally poured in 1984, the original foundation was beginning to creak. Programmers and customers complained of the "spaghetti code" that the Mac OS had become.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs, of course, believes in swift, decisive action and letting the chips fall where they may. In his view, starting from scratch—and jettisoning the system software the world had come to know—was the only way to go.
Mac OS X 10.5, affectionately known as Leopard, only builds on the successes of previous Mac OS X versions. You still don't have to worry about viruses, spyware, or service pack releases that take up a Saturday afternoon to install and fine-tune. And you'll still enjoy stability that would make the you of 1999 positively drool; your Mac may go for months or years without a system crash.
That's because 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.
So what is new in Leopard? Apple says it added over 300 new features; there's even a Web page that lists them. They are not, however, all equally breathtaking; Apple counts among them a new Braille font, a Russian spelling checker, and a Word of the Day screen saver.
Apple also took some things away, rejiggered others, and generally fine-tuned the whole affair. For example:
Time Machine is a real breakthrough. It's not a feature that fills a need we never knew we had; it fills a need we know we have. It keeps your entire Mac backed up, 24 hours a day. Everything: files, folders, settings, photos, email, programs, even Mac OS X itself. It's completely, totally automatic. Chapter 6 has the details.
Quick Look lets you tap the Space bar to view a highlighted document at full size, right at the desktop, without having to open the program that created it. You'll use it several times a day, and you'll love it.
Spaces gives you two, four, eight, or 16 full-size virtual monitors. You can park the windows of a different program, activity or project on each one—email and chat on Screen 1, Web browser on Screen 2—and switch between all these "external monitors" with a keystroke or a menu choice.
The enhanced Parental Controls let you set time limits for your children's computer use (different for weekdays and weekends), and even make the Mac lock itself at bedtime. A log tracks their activities, including what email they send and what Web sites they visit.
Screen Sharing, over the network or Internet, lets gurus assist newbies from afar.
The iChat text/voice/video chat program has had a huge overhaul. How huge? In this edition of this book, it gets its own chapter now. For example, you can now use a photo or a movie as a backdrop when you're videoconferencing—like a bluescreen effect but without the bluescreen. It also lets you display documents, presentations, or movies to your videoconferenced buddies. And here, too, screen sharing is available, so that you can assist a friend across the globe (or be assisted).
The Safari Web browser offers resizable text boxes on Web pages; a handy PDF viewer right in the browser window; a vastly improved Find command; and more flexibility with tabbed windows.
Mail now offers To Do lists and Notes (which also appear in the iCal calendar), stationery templates, RSS feeds, and Data Detectors, which find phone numbers, addresses, and dates in your email and offer to put them into your Address Book and calendar.
The other Mac OS X programs have all been revamped, too. Humble little Preview can now cut pieces out of one photograph and paste them into another, just like Photoshop. TextEdit has autosave, auto curly quotes, and auto Web links.
Not everything in Leopard is sunshine and dancing bunnies, however. For example:
Stacks are arcs or grids of icons that spring out of a Dock folder when you click it, making it easy for you to see what's inside. Unfortunately, only a relatively small number of icons appear; when you click a full folder, you don't get to see everything inside it. And the pop-up hierarchical listings of what's in a Dock folder are gone.
The see-through menus are problematic, too. It's hard to read the menu commands when they're superimposed on whatever text is in your open document or Web page.
Classic is gone. You can no longer run Mac OS 9 programs in Leopard. You can't restart a G5 or Intel Mac in Mac OS 9, either; so if you want to run one of the old pre–Mac OS X programs, let's hope you have one of the handful of G4 models that are capable of both (a) restarting in Mac OS 9, and (b) running Leopard.
There's a long list of smaller goodies, too. Boot Camp has been polished up, making it easier for you to restart your Mac (if it's an Intel-based model) in Windows. The Dictionary program can now search Wikipedia. A dozen new keyboard shortcuts in the Finder make navigating without the mouse even faster and easier. When you edit an icon's name, the highlighting doesn't extend to the suffix (like .jpg or .doc), so it's much quicker to change just the name. Redesigned panels of System Preferences incorporate the functions of what used to be confusing little add-on programs (like Internet Connect and Printer Setup Utility).
The complete list of changes in Mac OS X 10.5 would fill a book—in fact, you're holding it. But it's safe to say that practically ever nook and cranny has been dusted off, rethought, and—usually—improved.