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Panther Application Improvements

So you’ve installed Panther, started to get used to the new Finder, and worn the ink off the F9 key showing off Expose to your friends. Isn’t there more to Mac OS X 10.3? In TidBITS-703, I looked at some of Panther’s marquee features, while Adam poked around the corners of Apple’s newest operating system (see "Mac OS X 10.3 Panther Unleashed" and "Interesting Bits of Panther"). In this article, I want to look at some of the application and utility changes that give Panther some of its sheen. If you’re still deciding whether or not to upgrade, hopefully this information will help you decide if Panther is right for you.



Mail — Apple’s Mail application continues to improve under Panther. Version 1.3 adds a convenient view for tracking threaded messages, improves spam filtering, and offers better HTML rendering thanks to Safari’s rendering engine. To help prevent improperly addressed outgoing messages, the Safe Addressing feature flags addresses that don’t belong to a domain you specify. This feature could be worthwhile in an organization that wants to avoid sending proprietary information outside the local network. Note that you can specify multiple domains in Mail’s preferences, even though only one field is available to enter them.


For some people, however, the big news in Mail is support for working with Microsoft Exchange servers, including non-email-related content using an Outlook Web Access Server (also known as an Internet Information Services, or IIS, server).

Also new is better integration with Address Book and iChat AV: any message from an iChat buddy that you’ve defined in Address Book includes a green indicator when the buddy is online and her status is set to Available (nothing appears if the status is set to Away). Double-clicking the indicator initiates a chat in iChat.

Address Book — As one of the main components for Mail and iChat, Address Book has been expanded, too. Its iChat integration is similar to Mail, with an indicator appearing when a buddy is online and available.

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Address Book adds several custom fields, including Prefix, Suffix, and Dates (the default is Anniversary, but you can customize it). A series of relationship fields has been added, so you can list relations such as Spouse, Sister, Brother, Friend, Assistant, etc. One thing that confused me initially is that the Job Title field is no longer included as a blank field when you edit a record; you must now select it from the Add Field submenu of the Card menu.

Unfortunately, a nasty and obvious bug still exists in this new version: if you’re editing a contact and need to undo what you typed into a field, the entire contact reverts back to the state before you started edit it, wiping out any other fields that you changed or entered. That flub eliminated Address Book’s usefulness for me in Jaguar, but I assumed that something so obvious would have been fixed in Panther. Perhaps no one is actually using Address Book?

iChat AV 2.0 — Not much has changed between the iChat AV beta and iChat AV 2.0 (see "iSight Eyes iChat AV" in TidBITS-685). You can now specify a location where received files will be stored, and you can block users on a Rendezvous network from seeing your email and AIM addresses.



Perhaps the most significant news is that the iChat AV beta is set to expire at the end of the year, so Jaguar users will need to either upgrade to Panther or pay $30 to take advantage of audio and video chatting. Unfortunately, that counts for iSight owners using Jaguar; even though Apple bills the $150 iSight as the "eyes and ears" of iChat AV, the software is not included with the iSight.


Help Viewer — I’ve set up a hotkey so that pressing Control-E brings up Eudora – a combination I use several dozen times each day. On another Mac running Jaguar where I don’t have QuicKeys X installed, this combination launches Help Viewer, but only after an interminable wait.

Panther doesn’t use Control-E to launch Help Viewer, but even if it did, I’d be elated: it launches quickly! It runs smoothly! I find myself actually turning to Apple’s help system when I have a question about something, rather than making a knee-jerk Google search. Give it a try.

Faxing — Tired of fighting with bad fax software? (See "FaxSTF Pro Echoes Sad State of Fax Software" in TidBITS-476). Although I try to avoid faxing whenever possible, there are times when I need to send a fax, which involves standing over the fax machine in our office, hand-feeding it one page at a time so it doesn’t jam and make me start over from page one.



I’m guessing someone at Apple became fed up with FaxSTF, which has shipped with new Macs for years, because Mac OS X now includes a basic option to send and receive faxes in Panther. Click a Fax button in any print dialog, specify a recipient from your Address Book, enter cover page information, and click Fax (this assumes that your Mac’s modem is connected to a available phone line).

Panther can also receive faxes, using a few settings in the Print & Fax preference pane. It can print incoming faxes or email them to an address you specify, presumably as a PDF file, though I haven’t tested this feature yet.

Here’s a quick faxing tip: When you’re sending a fax, an icon for your connection (such as Internal Modem) appears in the Dock. If the job doesn’t go through and you accidentally close the window belonging to the connection, the interface disappears. To get it back, don’t bother searching for a fax application as I did; instead, launch Printer Setup Utility from the Utilities folder of your Applications folder, and choose Show Fax List from the View menu.

I’m sure people with more serious faxing needs might opt for a more sophisticated program such as Smile Software’s Page Sender (with which I’ve had limited experience on an old iMac set up at the office for receiving faxes). But for those of us forced to send only the occasional big, bitmapped, semi-legible picture to people who can’t deal with email attachments, Mac OS X’s fax implementation looks promising.


Preview — Apple’s Swiss Army Knife of PDF and image viewing and conversion, Preview, gains a much needed performance boost in Panther. In addition to launching and displaying pages faster, Preview beefs up its PDF features by adding an indexed text search capability and PDF bookmark and linking support for easier internal document navigation.


Preview can also now open raw PostScript or EPS files and print them to any cheap inkjet printer, something that previously required an expensive PostScript-based laser printer.

Zip Compression in the Finder — A quiet addition to Panther is the capability to create .zip archives in the Finder. The Windows world has pretty much standardized on the .zip format, so this becomes an easy way to transfer files across platforms (although Aladdin makes StuffIt Expander for Windows, it’s not nearly as commonly available on Windows machines). Select one or more files in the Finder and choose "Create Archive of [filename]" from the File menu or from the contextual menu (Control-click to bring this up).


Internet Preferences — Finally, I want to point to a bit of reorganization that has prompted several people I know to scratch their heads. Under Jaguar, you could change the default Web browser and email client by going to the Internet preference pane. In Panther, however, the Internet preference pane is replaced by the .Mac preference pane.

Instead, in a move that I’m sure only makes sense in the marketing hallways at Apple, you must configure your default email and Web applications from within Safari and Mail. Launch Mail, go to its preferences, click the General icon, and choose an application from the Default Email Reader pop-up menu. Similarly, a Default Web Browser pop-up menu appears in Safari’s General preferences.

What if you want to configure helper applications for other protocols? Turn to Monkeyfood’s freeware More Internet preference pane, which uses Internet Config to provide a single interface to all your protocol helpers, something that was previously accessible most easily through Internet Explorer’s preference in the Protocol Helpers pane.

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Panting for Panther? Have you made the switch to Mac OS X 10.3, or are you still pondering the path to Panther? Go to the TidBITS Web site and scroll down to answer our poll question: "When do you plan to upgrade your main Mac to Mac OS X 10.3 Panther?"


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