Here is a review of Mac OS X Panther 10.3, the new offering by Apple, only a few days after its release.
Installation worked without any problems. The installation process was simple but still had enough options to allow me to customize it as much as I wanted. Panther comes with 4 CDs, three of which include Panther itself.
The increased number of CDs is apparently due to the inclusion of new voices for the Speech Synthesizer.The fourth installer includes XCode, additional BSD subsystem parts, and developer manuals and examples. Installing XCode (even over an existing Project Builder installation) takes around 700 megabytes with all examples included, the actual program takes around 200 megabytes to be usable.
Upon booting, the installer lets you choose the installation language and hard drive, and after agreeing to the terms of the license lets you select different packages. You can choose to install or not install the BSD subsystem, individual iApps, Printer Drivers, Fonts, System Languages, Speech Synthesizer voices and X11. After this step the actual installation starts. The installer gave an estimated installation of 44 minutes, which is about as long as the actual installation took. This is quite quick compared to the last Windows installation I performed, but the after initially displaying 44 minutes the number went down to 8 minutes and then continued to display several wrong values. The installation still works perfectly though. After CD 1 is finished my computer spit it out and asked me to insert the next one. CD 2 and 3 only took a short time to install, mostly because I was only installing X11 and the iApps due to space concerns. The computer then restarted into Panther.
The entire system seems faster and more polished. Icons and Programs open differently: The icons increase in size and then fade into nothing, as the program starts. New finder windows now move in from the top of the screen and option windows flip down from the top of the window. Small changes like these exist across the entire system.
Graphical effects are noticeably smoother and window resizing is smoother, though this has never been a big issue to me. Display of text and pdfs is also faster, and so are many other parts of the system.
Command-Tab is greatly improved, and though it now works similarly to Alt-Tab on windows, the effect is much more visually pleasing. It is now also possible to hit Command-Tab and then move through the applications using the arrow keys which was a feature that was really missing from the old version.
None of my existing applications broke, though I did have a few problems with some of them, but more about that later. Something that I did notice, however, is that LaunchBar moved from the right corner of the menu bar towards the left. This is because OS X automatically orders the icons in the menu bar and the hack that LaunchBar used to override this was removed. This did not cause me any significant problems though. Overall the first impression was very positive.
The most famous feature of Panther is of course Exposé, and it is also one of the most useful. Exposé supports three functions, the first of which shrinks and moves all windows on the computer so that they are all visible at the same time. The user can then select which window to use. The second feature sorts windows by application and allows user to cycle through the different applications. Finally, the third feature moves all windows off the screen, to reveal the desktop which enables the user to see all Desktop icons. For people who usually have multiple windows open (which is very common in OS X) Exposé is extremely useful. According to fellow Mac user Albert Andersen:
Using Exposé reduces the task of getting to any window open to constant time. Normally, it is a task that is approximately O(n), where n is some combination of the number of applications open and the number of windows in each application.
This is of course not intended to be entirely serious, but it is an interesting statement of Exposé’s functionality. Expose, however, still has its share of problems. On my dual display setup, Exposé is noticeably slower than when used on just one display, but it is still very much usable. The problem is of course due to the graphics card having to double the work that it usually does, and similar problems appear with transitioning background images, where the transition is not quite as smooth as on single monitor machines.
Another problem is that full display applications do not always behave correctly. Bryce 5 for instance, gets split up into multiple little windows and it is not possible to select the entire program after that. In order to combine them into one window the user has to select a different window, and then switch to Bryce without using Exposé.
The Finder has greatly changed from the last version, and many of these changes were very much needed. There is now a bar at the left that has shortcuts to all drives on the computer, the local network, and several folders that the user can customize. New Finder windows now show the users home directory by default instead of the current volume, which seems a lot more sensible. The new networking is a lot simpler than having to use Connect to Server from the menu bar, and browsing another users’ computer now works the same way as browsing local folders
Fast User Switching:
Much has been said about fast user switching and about how much sense the transition effect from one user to the next makes from an HCI perspective: The turning cube signifies the switching to a different perspective of the same object (same computer, different user). Apart from the beauty of this effect, Fast User Switching is also a very useful feature. Having to turn off applications when switching to a different user was very annoying, which meant that I never used it until now.
In Panther, Preview now has enough features to be used without any inconveniences. It supports three modes: Dragging, Text selection and area selection, and it is possible to search the document. Pdf rendering is much much faster and hitting the keyboard arrows now scrolls down in the document rather than moving it to the next page, which is what most people expect it do anyway. The new Preview also supports multi-page Tiffs, which is nice for users of some Fax-to-email services.
It is now finally possible to watch DVDs on displays other than the main display. Until now I had to watch DVDs on my 15″ internal display, or switch the main display to be my Cinema Display in order to play DVDs. It was also not possible to switch displays while the DVD Player was running. It is now possible to watch DVDs on either monitor, and while dragging the window across, the DVD displays on both monitors at the same time. Upon letting go of the window, it automatically moves to the side, so it displays on just one monitor.
Panther now also supports printing to Windows shared printers (one of my favorite features), emailing Attachments to Windows users without the resource fork, faxing, and contains a new utility called FontBook, which allows better organization of Fonts, a capability invaluable to anyone doing graphics or typesetting work.
Since installing Panther I have run into some problems that I have never had before, some small and others quite significant.
Upon installing the new version of X11, X forwarding broke. I figured that my ssh_config file was replaced with a new version, but could not find the file anymore. I then found it /etc, but could not modify it because the sudo command could not be found anymore. I went on to install XCode and quickly solved the problem. The installation backed up all old configuration files and once I had sudo working I just restored the old version, which fixed everything.
Although none of my apps were broken, I encountered three System freezes, which upset me very much. After the first one I had to restart the system. The second one happened today while writing this review, and I was very much afraid that I would lose what I had already written. It then miraculously started responding after 2 minutes, and immediately froze again. After 10 minutes it finally started working again. It then froze a final time after which I had to restart it. This has not happened in the last few hours and might have been caused by iChat’s problems with transferring large files. I am confident that it will be fixed in the 10.3.1 release, and I have not yet talked to anyone who has encountered any similar issues.
Though there still are some small problems in Panther it it is a great new OS X release that addresses many small and large issues users were having with prior versions. Not everything that’s different in Panther is immideately visible; there are many small changes under the hood that improve the user experience as a whole, but are not themselves noticable. But after using the system for some time, it becomes apparent how important these improvments are.
About the Author
I am a Sophomore in Computer Science at Stanford. I have been using Mac OS X for a year. Before, I had used both Windows and Linux and had a brief stint with BeOS. My current computer is a 800 Mhz PowerBook G4, 512 MB of RAM, a 40 Gigabyte hard drive and an external 20″ Cinema Display.