Panther aids PDF handling, server admin

Earlier this year, at its World Wide Developers Conference, Apple unveiled the latest incarnation of Mac OS X, version 10.3, code-named Panther. It looks as if Apple will easily meet and probably even beat its stated release date of 'before the end of this year'.

Earlier this year, at its World Wide Developers Conference, Apple unveiled the latest incarnation of Mac OS X, version 10.3, code-named Panther. Based on the feedback of people with access to the various developer seed builds of the OS, it looks as if Apple will easily meet and probably even beat its stated release date of "before the end of this year" (which most people took to mean the next Mac Expo in January). In fact it is looking more likely that it will be announced at this month’s Apple Expo in Paris that shipments will commence in mid-October.

This upgrade, which is almost certain to be a paid one like Jaguar, contains many major changes to both the client and server version that will require a certain amount of retraining for users and system administrators alike. While many are in the user interface, there have been plenty made behind the scenes which should make the professionals using it significantly more productive than they were on Mac OS X 10.2.

For the client, one of the bigger behind the scene changes is in handling the system-wide default output format of PDF. In Panther, the graphics engine allows the user for the first time to directly handle a PDF file's primitives such as text, line art and bitmaps without having to deal with the rest of the file. This shows up to the user in a number of different ways but, most notably, in the speed with which Apple's default PDF viewer, Preview, can scroll and search through large PDF documents. Prepress professionals will love this because they will now be able to tailor filters that only affect one specific part of the file instead of the whole thing.

Another change would be the addition of a built-in PostScript to PDF converter. In a nutshell this will make non-PostScript printer owners very happy as they will finally be able to print non-jaggy EPS images and other PostScript files directly (once applications take advantage of the new APIs).

Better integration with Windows environments is provided not only with the upgrade of Samba to 3.0 (which correctly handles the new sharing protocols in Microsoft Windows Server 2003), but also in the change from relying on Apple's proprietary NetInfo directory service to the more standard LDAPv3. This carries over to the server side, as well, where Apple has promised that these changes will result in a product that will slot in easily to an Active Directory-managed network with full functionality.

In addition, there look to have been plenty of other changes on the server side. After many complaints, Apple has replaced its in-house mail server (which was originally derived from the AppleShare IP product of many years ago) for a combination of Postfix (for SMTP services) and Cyrus (for IMAP and POP services).

J2EE application deployment has also been made easier with the bundling of the open-source JBoss application server. According to developers with access to the pre-release builds of the server, the Apple-supplied GUI for JBoss works well and takes a lot of the drudgery out of setting it up.

It has always been something of a bug bear with me that Apple released a product like Mac OS X Server that is very reliant on a properly set up DNS, but then provided no tools for working with the standard BIND server. The only way to configure it has been to get down and dirty with the notoriously finicky BIND file format that requires an expert’s touch to prevent a DNS disaster. This changes in 10.3 with a full GUI that will allow part-time administrators to finally have total control of the services that their server provides.

While many administrators used these great open source programs anyway, this move not only simplifies a Mac OS X Server installation, but allows them to use a best of breed program that is fully supported by Apple with its trademark simplistic interfaces.

As exciting as Panther sounds, it was recently revealed that Apple had filed for trademarks in early July on Cougar, Lynx, Leopard and Tiger, so the breakneck pace of major releases of Mac OS X doesn't look to be stopping anytime soon. I can only wonder which of the big cats a certain meandering bovine creature will have to deal with when it finally ships in 2005.

White is MIS manager at Cookie Time in Christchurch. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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