The Practical Mac

Jaguar Joyride

- 2002.09.24 - Tip Jar

I have just taken Mac OS X 10.2 (a.k.a. "Jaguar") for a spin, and I am impressed. There's a lot of energy in this cat.

The first major update to Apple's Unix-based OS in a year makes a compelling case for an upgrade. While it fixes a few bugs, the primary purpose of Jaguar is to advance and expand the feature set of the OS.

Apple claims that 10.2 adds "over 150" new features and enhancements. While I did not take the time to make a formal count to verify their claim, there are a great many additions and improvements that most users will notice right away and will benefit from.

System Requirements

Jaguar has pretty much the same requirements as previous versions of OS X: a Mac with a minimum of 128 MB of physical RAM that originally shipped with at least a G3 processor. Apple does not officially support the original PowerBook G3 or processor upgrade cards, however there are some third-party installers which will allow you to run OS X on some officially unsupported hardware, including some with pre-G3 processors.

Apple recommends at least 3 GB of free hard drive space to perform an upgrade. The final OS installation will not necessarily take up this much space; the installation routine needs extra room for writing temporary files that it will remove when the installation is finished.

As a practical matter, you need at least 192 MB of RAM to run any version of OS X acceptably.

Changes

The first thing most users will notice upon the first restart after installation of Jaguar is that our old buddy Hello JaguarHappy Mac is missing from the startup! Instead, he (she?) has been replaced by an Apple logo. If Happy's absence causes you to lose sleep, you can download a utility called hello Jaguar that will restore the status quo.

The next thing most users will notice is that the Finder will actually let you find things. A Search option is built directly into the Finder window toolbar. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as the real improvements to the Finder are found under the hood. The code has been rewritten and is now multithreaded. Multiple searches or browses run virtually as fast a single search. This is most noticeable when browsing an iDisk or a network drive.

Jaguar marks the return of a feature missing since OS X was first introduced: spring-loaded folders. Not only are they back, but they work in all three Finder views - icon, list, and column. When you hold an item over a folder, instead of dropping it in immediately, a window will zoom open beneath your cursor to reveal the contents within. Pause over another folder within that window and another will zoom open to reveal those contents as well. Move out of the window and it will disappear. Drop the item where you want it, and all the zoomed windows will disappear. The net result is the ability to drag a file to a location several folders deep with a single action.

A feature sure to have long-range impact is the addition of a system Address Book. This is a central storage area for all contact information. Any application can be written to rely on this central contact database. The new Mail app uses Address Book. It can be synchronized with a Palm PDA or even a Bluetooth-equipped cell phone. When you receive a call from someone in your Address Book, the cell phone will display their information in a Caller-ID like format.

Address Book hold tremendous promise. It could mark the beginning of the end of all-in-one integrated PIMs such as Microsoft Entourage. If developers write their programs to utilize Address Book, you could mix and match communication applications which best fit your needs. For instance, if Power-On Software were to add code to Now Up To Date and Contact to allow it to interact with the Address Book, you could use NUDC for contact management and scheduling and another app, such as the built-in Mail app or Eudora (assuming Qualcomm made the code changes allowing it to use Address Book) for your email. And the best part is, they would all use a common database of information. I believe this is one of the most exciting additions to OS X.

Internet searches are performed in the all-new Sherlock 3. Many functions are performed directly in Sherlock, without the need to open a Web browser. However, Sherlock will automatically open your browser when appropriate.

Sherlock can search items like stock news, general headlines, movie previews, locations and show times, yellow pages listings, eBay auction activity, and much more. Sherlock displays each of these "channels" in its own unique arrangement of columns and panes appropriate to the content.

Jaguar introduces tremendous advances in networking, particularly in mixed network environments. Included is a PPTP-based VPN client, which works well with Windows-managed remote networks, as well as standards-based networks such as those based on Unix or Linux. One of the improvements I found most welcome is that you can browse both Mac and Windows servers right from the network icon. You no longer have to use the Connect To menu to find file services.

OS X now has something called Personal File Services for Windows. When you add a Mac to a Windows-based network, the Mac can pretend to be a Windows machine (cringe!) to the other boxes on the network. That way Windows users can connect to your Mac and use its shared folders without you needing to install any extra software on either the Mac or the PC. (Rumor has it that in order to increase compatibility with Windows PCs, Apple will provide a downloadable option to add a blue screen of death (BSOD) to Jaguar if demand warrants it. The BSOD will reportedly activate at random intervals and for no apparent reason.)

If you are unfortunate enough to work downwind from a Windows Active Directory environment, Jaguar also includes support for Active Directory so you can more easily integrate Macs into a Windows-based network. This also allows you to store your home directory on a remote Windows server. The documentation is strangely silent on exactly why you would want to do this, short of being forced to by a Windows Weenie Network Administrator. You could resist and, if confronted, remind your Preventer of Information Services that real men (or women, as appropriate) use Unix.

A revamped Mail application has been introduced with 10.2. The app looks the same on the outside. However, lurking somewhere in the depths of the new code is a junk mail filter so frighteningly accurate that it is spooky. After almost a year of setting up rules in Entourage in a vain attempt to stem the tide of spam, only about 50% of junk mail is correctly identified. Right out of the box, Mail was over 95% accurate!

According to Apple, Mail uses "adaptive latent semantic analysis" to identify what is and is not junk mail, and relegate that which is junk to the cyberspace landfill. If it does misidentify any mail, simple buttons are provided to "train" Mail about this particular message. It will never make the same mistake again. I'm willing to bet that upon further study, some enterprising researcher will figure out that Jaguar actually loads up some magic elves into your Mac and they personally read each incoming mail message and filter it manually. Remember, you read it here first.

Unix-based Darwin, the open source heart of Jaguar, has been updated with the Mach 3.0 kernel and FreeBSD 4.4. Of interest to programmers will be the inclusion of the relatively new GCC (GNU C Compiler) 3.1. The PowerPC port of Version 3.1 (which is of course the one included in OS 10.2) includes extensions which support Motorola's AltiVec specifications. This allows programs to easily be optimized to run on the G4 processor. While Apple's engineers refined this feature, it was, ironically, programmers from Red Hat who first added these extensions to GCC.

QuickTime 6 is included with OS X 10.2. QT6 supports MPEG-4, the Next Big Thing in digital media technology. However, if you own QuickTime 5 Pro (as I do), beware! If you upgrade to QT6, you will lose the functionality of Pro and must buy QT6 Pro. This is a hidden cost of upgrade that I am surprised has not been more widely publicized.

Jaguar adds a bounty of other new and/or improved features. I was not able to take these for a spin (for varying reasons), but here, based solely on the reports of others, are a few that seem most useful:

Wholesale improvements to the OS X graphic rendering subsystem resulted in Quartz Extreme. If you have a supported video card, video processing is offloaded to the graphics card, freeing the main processor for other tasks. The end result is much faster graphics (since they are now being controlled by a card designed for exactly that task) as well as faster overall performance (since the CPU is no longer occupied with graphics control). A relatively small collection of graphic processor units (GPUs) are supported: Nvidia GeForce2 MX, GeForce3, GeForce4 MX, or GeForce4 Ti or any AGP-based ATI Radeon GPU. A minimum of 16 MB VRAM is required. This essentially includes new Macs sold in the last year or so and older Macs with a video upgrade. Please note that only AGP adapters are supported. Some of the supported adapters come in PCI versions, which will not support Quartz Extreme. Even if you do not have one of the supported GPUs, you will still notice graphic improvement with a G4 processor. Those of us with a G3 and no supported GPU will notice little if any video performance increase.

Inkwell is handwriting recognition technology. Just write on a graphics tablet, and Jaguar turns it into typed text at the cursor in any application. Inkwell works with all your existing applications. No upgrades or application changes are necessary. Unless, of course, you don't have a graphics tablet in which case Inkwell will be pretty much useless until you get one.

Although I am not a user of instant-messaging, after seeing iChat I might start. iChat has built-in compatibility iChat Rendezvouswith AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), allowing you to have automatic immediate access to the more than 150 million members of the AIM and .mac communities and the ability to join any AOL chat room just by typing in its name. Using Apple's revolutionary Rendezvous networking technology (reviewed below), you can see which people are available on your local network without even knowing their screen names. The interface of iChat is so slick, I could not resist inserting the Apple promo screen shot.

iCal is a personal calendar application that lets you keep track of your appointments and events with multiple calendars featuring at-a-glance views of upcoming activities by day, week, or month. You can also share your calendars online with your colleagues, family and friends, using your .mac account. iCal allows you to subscribe to other calendars to keep up with work schedules, family, and school events; send standards-based email event invitations to people listed in your Mac OS X Address Book; get notification of upcoming events on screen by email or via text messaging to a mobile phone or pager; and has built-in To Do list management. By publishing your calendar on the Internet, it is accessible from any computer in the world with an Internet connection. This is perhaps the most compelling feature of iCal - and one that requires a .mac membership. Please note that iCal is not included with OS X 10.2, is available as a free download from the Apple website, and requires 10.2.

USB Printer Sharing is back. Any Mac with Jaguar and a USB-connected printer can share that printer on the network. The shared printer can be used by Macs running OS 8.6, 9.x and OS X.

Finally, Rendezvous could one day in the not so distant future make networking a real no-brainer. Rendezvous-enabled devices automatically broadcast their availability and which services they offer (file sharing, printing, etc.) and discover what services are being offered for their use by others. Then - the remarkable part - they automatically connect to one another! Currently, Apple, Hewlett Packard, Lexmark, and Epson are the only manufacturers integrating Rendezvous technology into their products. However, it is likely that other vendors will quickly come on board.

Rendezvous is not a network protocol itself, but rather works over most existing wired and wireless networks. Plug in your Mac (upgraded to Jaguar), plug in your new HP Rendezvous-equipped printer down the hall, and start printing. Yes, it is that simple. Three cheers for Apple, HP, Lexmark and Epson for taking a giant leap forward in taking the unnecessary complexity out of owning and operating a computer.

The big question on everyone's mind seems to be: Is Jaguar worth the $129 price? By now, we all now that Apple is not offering a discount for current OS X owners. They do give you a break on multiple copies, allowing you to install Jaguar on up to five Macs in your household for $199, which is a very good deal.

If you shop around, you can find Jaguar discounted. Just today, I received a MacMall catalog offering Jaguar for $98 (after a mail-in rebate). Also, if you bought a Mac OS X v10.1 retail product or a qualifying new Macintosh that did not include Mac OS X version 10.2 on or after July 17, 2002, you can upgrade to Jaguar for $19.95. Special education pricing is also available.

If you still use OS 9 or earlier and have been waiting to upgrade, the time is now. If you use your Mac on a network that includes Windows, Linux, or Unix computers and you need to connect to each other or share resources, Jaguar is a worthwhile purchase. For the typical home user who already has 10.1.x, it is mostly a matter of personal preference. The question to ask is: Are the additions and upgrades worth the price for you personally?

I have read of a few programs that require an update to work properly with 10.2, but so far all vendors of affected products have provided these updates as free downloads. Jaguar represents a major evolutionary step forward for Mac OS X. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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