Jeff Carlson has walked you through the marquee features of Apple's new Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, but my experience with the previous version, Jaguar, was that the changes that made the difference for me were more subtle. So let's take a look at some of these subtle changes in Panther and how they work.
Timed Startup/Sleep/Shutdown Returns -- Yet one more feature of Mac OS 9 has reappeared in Mac OS X. The Energy Saver preference pane now contains a Schedule tab in which you can set schedules for the Mac to start up, sleep, or shut down. Now you can have your Mac ready and waiting for you in the morning without having to wait for it to start up manually. Initial testing and reports show slightly sporadic success (my iBook refused to sleep at the specified time, but did wake up appropriately, and a reader on TidBITS Talk reported that his Mac didn't shut down when it should have).
As an aside, if you find the new organization of the icons in System Preferences confusing, consider using the View menu to choose a specific preference pane or choose Organize Alphabetically to hide Apple's categories. These viewing options aren't new to Panther, but I hadn't wanted them until I found myself confused by some of the new organization. Annoyingly for those of us on slower Macs, Panther's System Preferences application now quits when you close its window, making it slower to start up if you need it again later.
Network Browser Done Right -- Despite excellent support for file sharing and networking, Apple has long had terrible interfaces for finding and connecting to network volumes. First the Chooser, then the Network Browser in Mac OS 9 (did anyone really bother with that?), and then the lousy Connect to Server dialog in Mac OS X. Panther finally moves in the right direction, using the previously superfluous Network icon at the top level of Finder windows as the starting point for network browsing for both Mac and Windows shared volumes (quite a number of which seem to be available in the hotel for the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference, where I currently am). Select one and click the Connect button that appears to bring up a login dialog and from then on, that volume shows the full file hierarchy underneath.
Keyboard Shortcut Quirks -- In the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane, Panther now enables you to change the keyboard shortcuts for many global actions, such as taking a screenshot. That's great, but what's even better is that you can also add keyboard shortcuts to menu items in at least some applications. I couldn't get them to work in Eudora or iTunes in my initial testing, although they did work in Safari and System Preferences. Interestingly, when I made an All Applications shortcut that I intended to choose Eudora from the Recent Items submenu of the Apple menu, it didn't work, but it did attach properly a bookmark I had in Safari for the Eudora Web site; having keyboard shortcuts for Safari bookmarks will be helpful. Also, as I learned in Matt Neuburg's "Take Control of Customizing Panther," if the menu item in question has an ellipsis, you must use trial-and-error to determine if it's a true ellipsis (Option-;) or three periods. The moral of the story? Useful and welcome as this new feature is, don't give up on macro utilities like QuicKeys X and Keyboard Maestro (since they can string sequences together, run AppleScript scripts, type text, click buttons, and so much more.
Disk Utility Engulfs Others -- Who knew that Disk Utility had imperialistic leanings? Previously, Disk Utility was essential for repairing damaged disks, fixing permissions, and initializing and partitioning disks. In Panther, however, Disk Utility has taken over the disk image functions of Disk Copy, so you can use it to make and burn disk images. Not stopping there, Disk Copy has also overrun the territory of the free Carbon Copy Cloner, since you can now use the controls in the Restore tab to make an exact duplicate of a disk, or restore a disk from an existing disk image. For the many people disappointed that it was impossible to duplicate a Mac OS X volume by merely dragging it, as was possible in Mac OS 9, this feature should be quite welcome. While you're in Disk Utility, note that you can click the Enable Journaling button for disks that don't currently have journaling turned on. Without going into details, with journaling on, your Mac can start up more quickly after a crash.
Force Quit This! Much as I like being able to force quit a recalcitrant application, I hate going through the Force Quit dialog because of the extra steps of opening and closing it. I often Option-click the misbehaving application's Dock icon and choose Force Quit from there, but in Panther, you can now force quit just the frontmost application - without even seeing the Force Quit dialog - by pressing Command-Shift-Option-Escape. That shortcut may also help in situations where the Force Quit dialog doesn't draw in front of the dead application.
Classic Interface Tweaks -- Apple isn't likely to change Classic, even though it might be nice to have a saved state option, much like Virtual PC offers. But Panther does offer some improvements in how you interact with Classic. In the Classic preference pane's Start/Stop tab, there's now a checkbox for Show Classic Status in Menu Bar. The Classic menu that appears in your menu bar provides a quick way to start and stop Classic, but more important, it also offers an Apple Menu Items submenu that contains the contents of your Classic environment's Apple menu. Since that also includes control panels by default, it means you no longer must launch a Classic application just to access a control panel. Also in the Classic preference pane is a new Memory/Versions tab that shows the names, versions, and memory usage of Classic applications that could be handy if you're stuck using a RAM-hungry Classic application.
iPhoto Integration Tips -- It sometimes seems as though Apple isn't paying much attention to iPhoto, though I hope we'll see an iPhoto 3.0 at Macworld Expo in January that will address the significant performance and scalability problems of the current version. My hopes for improvement have been raised by the new integration of iPhoto and the operating system in Panther. In the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane, you can select any iPhoto album to use photos in it for your Desktop and your screen saver, which may be easier than setting up the same thing through iPhoto. However, if you make a new album in iPhoto, the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane won't see it until you quit System Preferences and relaunch. Also, one tip: when selecting a new photo for your Desktop, use the Exposé Desktop-revealing shortcut for a quick preview.
Submit Bug Report -- Kudos to Apple on this one. When an application crashes in Panther, a dialog appears with a Submit Bug Report button. You can add more information to the report and then send it to Apple over the Internet. Though I haven't tried to watch the network traffic, Apple states clearly in Mac Help that no personal information is included in the report. User-submitted bug reports (such as those that come from Safari's bug button) have a lower priority than developer-submitted bug reports that go directly into Apple's bug database, but multiple Apple employees have assured me that the user reports are processed and evaluated. In the future, I hope to see a way that independent developers can also receive these automatically generated bug reports when their applications crash.
Network Status Display -- Those of us who have somewhat complicated networks with multiple connections (built-in Ethernet, AirPort, modem) and even potentially multiple Internet connections (okay, I admit that's weird), will appreciate the new Network Status display in the Network preference pane. It shows all your connections and provides a plain English description of the status of each connection. You can also double-click one to edit its settings.
More Bits and Pieces -- I'm sure we'll all be discovering more useful details about Panther in the coming weeks, so post any interesting things you learn to TidBITS Talk. I'll try to keep up with posts, but I'm at the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference all week, so I may not be able to keep posts flowing as regularly as I'd like.
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