Jaguar stalks Windows users
Gannett News Service
If Apple Computer's ubiquitous "Switch" ads, featuring real people who have jumped from Windows to the Macintosh, are tempting, the newest version of its OS X operating system offers a set of unique features that may be the deciding factor.
Mac OS X 10.2 informally known a Jaguar hit store shelves recently with more than 150 new features, including snappier performance, a smart junk e-mail filter and, with an eye toward those planning to switch computing platforms, almost seamless networking with Windows personal computers.
The desktop: similar to Windows but different
When a Windows user first sets up a Mac with Jaguar installed, the bright, cheery, interface, known as Aqua, may seem like alien territory, but it has many elements in common with Windows XP, just implemented differently.
Like Windows, Jaguar has a taskbar, but it consists of a colorful row of icons and is known as the Dock. Running applications are shown with a triangle below an icon, and they are a click away from access. To launch an application from the Dock, you also click once on its icon. You can add an item by just dragging it to the Dock, or remove an item, so long as it's not running, by clicking and dragging it away, where it disappears with a visual puff of smoke.
Jaguar's file viewer, the Finder, now actually finds files, courtesy of an integrated Search feature located in the toolbar. The Finder's main function, though, is to view the files and programs on your Mac's hard drive or on the network.
You can view files three ways. One is by icon, the second, List View, reduces everything to a list of titles and dates and so forth. The third, called Column View, makes it easier to see items buried deep in multiple folders. You click one folder, and the contents are revealed in the column to its right.
Another useful feature, spring-loaded folders, makes it easy to move files and folders around. Just drag the file to a folder and hold for a second, and the folder jumps open to reveal what's inside. There is no comparable Windows feature.
Slick software selection
Jaguar also comes with a collection of the latest versions of Apple's popular "i" applications, which include iMovie for video editing, iPhoto to capture and organize your digital photo library and iTunes, the jukebox program that works with the iPod.
New for Mac OS X 10.2 is iChat, an instant messaging application that works with AOL's popular messaging system, Apple's own .Mac service, plus other users on your local network. The new wrinkle in iChat is the ability to use your own photo to identify yourself to other chatters as well as placing your chat text in comic-booklike balloons.
While Windows XP comes with a similar selection of utilities, they do not have the simple, uncluttered interfaces of the Mac OS X equivalents, nor the sophistication. For example, Windows MovieMaker doesn't let you add text to movies, while iMovie offers dozens of text effects. And Windows' built-in image editor, Paint, won't automatically import images from digital cameras or organize them the way iPhoto can. Finally, Microsoft's instant messaging client, MSN Messenger, only works with the MSN network, which has far few users than AOL's.
Apple has revamped its search application, Sherlock, as a Web services program, which can locate information such as Yellow Pages listings, movie schedules, online auctions and support information from Apple.
Working in partnership with online information services such as MovieFone and eBay, the information you want appears in Sherlock's multipaned window, so you don't have to use your Web browser. When you look up a business' phone number, for example, you'll also see directions and a map showing how to get there.
When you call up a movie listing, you'll not only see what's playing at your local multiplex, but you can order tickets online and watch a preview of a movie trailer, all from Sherlock. For now, there is no Windows equivalent to Sherlock.
Easy windows networking
Macs can't exist in a vacuum. Often, they must be networked with Windows PCs to exchange information. Jaguar comes with a built-in Windows file server, allowing for easy file sharing in both directions, with just a couple of clicks in a System Preferences setup screen called Sharing.
Once enabled, use the Connect To feature from the Mac OS X Finder's Go menu to locate available computers on your network, regardless of whether they are Macs or Windows PCs. You also can go in the reverse direction, by accessing your Mac from a Windows computer. To help make the process as flexible as possible, Apple includes support for the Windows Active Directory and a virtual private network (VPN) feature that lets you, among other things, access the Windows network at your office from your home.
From a user's perspective, the files on the Windows computer show up in the Finder just like the files on your Mac. On the other platform, a Windows user will see the Mac's files in the same fashion as a regular Windows PC.
In order to perform this magic previously, it used to be necessary to buy third-party applications such as Thursby Systems' $149 DAVE.
Apple's elegant spam fighter
Regardless of which computing platform you use, you are probably plagued by junk e-mail. Jaguar's solution in its Mail application is something called "latent semantic analysis," a fancy sounding phrase that describes Apple's technique to flag junk messages, which involves actually looking at the text of the message for telltale clues.
When you first run Mail, it runs in Training mode, and suspicious messages are flagged with a light brown color. As you continue to use the program, you can use the Mark As Junk Mail command to catch messages the program misses, and Not Junk for ones mistakenly labeled. As the program continues to operate, it learns from its mistakes. After a week or two, you can put Mail into the Automatic mode and it will dump all suspected messages into a mailbox labeled Junk. A simple checkbox in the program's preferences can be set to automatically delete the contents of the Junk folder at intervals you determine.
According to Chris Bourden, Apple's product manager for Mac OS X, "If we get 97 or 98 percent accuracy, we've done our job." Mac users who take extra care in setting up the Junk Mail filter will find even better accuracy after the simple training process.
While users of Outlook or Outlook Express for Windows can block individual senders or create e-mail rules to handle suspicious messages based on the sender, subject line or message content, it requires a lot of manual labor to be effective.
Windows users who fear that their favorite programs aren't available for the Mac might br suprised. Most popular software is available for both platforms and can exchange files seamlessly, especially with Jaguar's new Windows networking feature.