Leopard: a system you operate

New OS offers users a lot, says Tom Yager

For the first time since I met OS X back in 2002, Apple is challenging Mac users to raise their productivity to a new level.

Leopard rewards those who are willing to take a chance on doing more with the gear and skills they already possess. On Tiger, there is significant labour involved in sequentially loading documents to find the right one, sizing and hiding and moving your windows, and groping around in System Preferences (the Mac's Control Panel) to find where Apple decided to put settings that are scattered across various icons. Locating a mountable share on a system on your LAN is a tricky exercise, and sharing files is harder under Tiger than it is on Windows XP. In a corporate or family environment, it's difficult to limit users' access to sensitive or inappropriate information, or to restrict usage to particular hours of the day.

Leopard wipes out all these problems. A spotlight search for a document may turn out a hundred matches of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, RTF and PDF documents. Previously, you'd have to open each document in its associated application to see its contents. In Leopard, a feature called Quick Look gives you an instant pop-up of the document's contents, which you can expand to the full screen and navigate through, without having the application that created it installed on your Mac. To banish the hassles associated with managing windows, Leopard introduces Spaces, which creates multiple virtual desktops, empty until you fill them with applications. You can navigate spaces by holding down the Control key and pressing the left and right arrows, or a function key can present a grid of desktops that allow you to drag apps from one space to another. If a movie or Flash content is playing in one of the spaces, it will continue to play in the grid view. And you can easily bind applications so that they will always open in a particular space, creating room for development spaces, a mail and appointments space, and a space that you don't need the boss to see. When you use Command+Tab to run the choice list of running applications, if that app is running in another space, Leopard will automatically switch spaces to bring your selected application into view.

Locating network shares and sharing data from your system to the network used to be a laborious exercise. Now it's easy: The Sharing tab in System Preferences takes care of sharing your files, and the Places section of the Finder sidebar lists visible Mac and Windows machines with available shareable files. Likewise, firewall settings have been moved from the Sharing preferences to Security, and their character has changed as well, with a focus on letting specific applications through the firewall instead of opening numbered TCP and UDP ports. Lastly, setting up a Mac so that it can't be used in ways you don't want it to be used is usually a matter of setting policies from a server. Leopard's Parental Controls provide user-level local policies with regard to websites, IM and email targets, and limits on time of day and weekend usage. There is something new around every corner, like the fact that the program I'm using right now, Leopard's included TextEdit, saves Word 2007, Open Document, and HTML files. TextEdit has adjustable kerning, hyphenation, spelling, and grammar checking, and the ability to look up words in the Oxford dictionary and thesaurus, Apple's dictionary of Mac terms, and Wikipedia. That these features are available in every text box in every Mac application is something that makes Mac users say "but of course," and makes non-Mac users wonder how Apple could do it.

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