Mac Lab Report

Panther Improves Classic

- 2004.02.04

I've installed Panther on a teacher machine on my school and tested a number of functions with it, and I am pleased to report that:

  1. Things that did not work under OS X 10.2 now do.
  2. Things that did work under OS X 10.2 still do.
  3. The added features are nice enough to consider the switch.
  4. The things that didn't work right immediately are not serious and are easily fixed.

I've been using Jaguar for some time and hardly ever boot directly into OS 9 except for the occasional program that will not install properly in OS X. Here's a brief list of the things that didn't work before and do now:

  • Microsoft Outlook's web-based email reader, which your employer must activate so you can read internal email at home, did not work well under Safari. Message buttons were compressed and you couldn't always click on them unless you replied to a message. Status: fixed.
  • SASI, a commonly used student information management system, was not compatible with OS X 10.2. You could use it, but it was the sort of thing that you wouldn't want to have to demonstrate in front of anyone with the power to deny purchasing Macs, if you know what I mean. Windows didn't overlap correctly, and the program would commandeer the Finder from time to time and wouldn't let it go. My initial testing shows all of this is cured in Panther. Status: fixed.
  • Several other Classic programs, including Anacrostics, work better under Panther than they did under Jaguar. It isn't quite perfect - some strange flickering thing is going on with the default button graphics - but the program is usable, if a little strange.

With regard to things that didn't work right immediately, I've had a bit of trouble with my iDisk. Apple recently shut down access through AppleTalk to iDisk accounts, forcing users to use the WebDAV protocol (OS 9 users can access their iDisk accounts using a free program called Goliath). In Panther, the default "iDisk" option in the Go menu yields an iDisk with a "-1" after its name when it mounts. This caused some errors in Dreamweaver's setup for my websites, but when I changed the local mount point's name to match, everything went back to normal. A strange but not serious error.

Some of the icons in my Dock turned into question marks when the operating system lost track of them. Replacing them was easy, and I tossed the old aliases as I fixed each new one. All told, I spent about fifteen minutes fixing things, which isn't too bad for a major operating system upgrade.

Finally, I really do like the new features in Panther, especially Exposé and the arrangement of the new Finder windows. You can make the columns different widths now, which is nice for those of us who try to organize our files. If each folder remembered custom window widths, boy that'd be something. But it's still better than it was before the upgrade.

The whole system seems snappier (1 GHz TiBook, 1 Gig RAM) than under Jaguar, but not dramatically so. There is a new sans serif system font that is a little easier to read. Classic can now put an icon in your menu bar to show it is running. Icons selected on the desktop now have an outlined box around them to make them stand out better than a shade change.

There are many, many small changes such as this that represent Apple's continuing commitment to an elegant user experience. I think that is the term people are searching for when comparing OS X to Windows XP. Elegant vs. ungainly. It's a subtle thing, but I like it.

In fact, the only serious flaw I see in Panther is the lack of a price break for those of us who have invested so much in past versions and are upgrading from a previous version of OS X. This is a common complaint, and others have made it more eloquently than I. It is an issue that remains unresolved.

As we've seen with the iPod battery and iBook motherboard issues, if enough users make enough noise in a public place, Apple may eventually respond. I don't think there are enough people who will complain about the expense of these upgrades yet. A few more full-price upgrade cycles might tip the balance though.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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