Mac OS X at a glance

Unveiling what Apple Computer Inc. President and Chief Executive Steve Jobs called Tuesday the first "major overhaul" to the Mac operating system in 17 years, the hardware and software maker detailed a host of new features that analysts saw providing major benefits to Apple's loyal user base.

Apple's Mac OS X version 10.1, which hits retail shelves Saturday, is being described by the company as a marriage between "the power and stability of the Unix operating system and the elegance and simplicity of Macintosh."

Several new features are included in Mac OS X. During an unveiling of the operating system at the Seybold Conference and Expo here, Apple said that so many additions were made to the operating system since the first version came out in March, that the upgrade was too large to be delivered over the Internet. Instead it was handed out beginning Tuesday on a CD.

"Mac OS X (Version 10.0) didn't get a strong reception from the existing Macintosh customer base," said Wayne Kernochan, an operating systems analyst and managing vice president at Aberdeen Group Inc. "With the new release, functionally speaking, there's some good strong things in it."

The new features include:

-- CD and DVD burning capabilities directly from the desktop: Users can drag and drop files into a CD or DVD folder, and with a single click those files will be burned onto a disk. Only Apple's PowerMac G4 series computers come standard with a DVD burner.

-- DVD playback: While this feature has been available in Mac OS 9 and earlier versions, it was left out of the first OS X release. It reappears in Version 10.1 with a slick new interface.

-- Speedier overall performance: Apple said applications launch on Version 10.1 two to three times faster than the original OS X release, and menus can be resized five times faster. Three-dimensional graphics rendering also runs 20 percent faster than the first release, the company said.

-- Personalization: The operating system "Dock," also known as the toolbar, can be relocated on the desktop.

-- Quick access to system preferences: Mac OS X Version 10.1 features desktop icons for checking system status such as Internet connections, battery life and volume. The systems folder also arranges all of the system preferences in categories rather than by alphabetical order so they can be located and managed easier.

-- Color management: ColorSync 4, an application that allows a document to print exactly as it appears on a users' screen, is integrated into the operating system. The feature allows designers to save and send files via e-mail with explicit control over color settings, an important feature for digital publishers.

-- High quality graphics: Apple's new "Aqua" interface, first released in Mac OS X Version 10, allows the operating system to display fonts and graphics with greater clarity than earlier versions. The feature also enables dialog boxes and other features to appear transparent so users can still see windows positioned in the background.

-- Support for Web services: AppleScript now includes support for XML (Extensible Markup Language), and other Web services standards, so users can access services on the Web from the Mac desktop. Apple has included several sample AppleScript services and users will soon be able to create their own in a soon-to-be-released application, called AppleScript Studio.

-- Built-in support for peripherals: Apple's extensive image-capture features enable nearly every digital camera on the market to be immediately recognized when plugged into a Mac without the need for additional software. Printers and digital music players can be recognized as well. This makes it easier for users to download pictures from a camera and print files without the hassle of manually configuring a printer.

-- Invisible support for various files extensions: Mac OS X saves files that can be exported to Windows or other operating systems without having to specify file extensions such as .txt or .pdf. Those extensions are automatically exposed based on the type of file that is being exported.

-- Increased stability: While not new to Mac OS X, the new operating system includes preemptive multitasking and protected memory, which protects the operating system from crashing if one application goes down.

-- Also not new to the point release, Mac OS X supports dual-processor hardware and has expanded networking support: The new Mac OS X can communicate with Windows servers and Unix servers in addition to Mac servers.

Mac OS X Version 10.1 will be available in retail stores on Saturday for US$129. Users of the current version of the operating system can upgrade to the new point release for $19.99, or receive a free upgrade at retail outlets through Oct. 31.

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Matt Berger

Computerworld

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