Apple's Jaguar Leaps Ahead of Windows


By Charles Haddad Resist no more. Any Mac users holding out against upgrading to OS X can now safely give up the fight. Jaguar, the latest version of Apple's new operating system released on Saturday, Aug. 24, is spectacular. It's arguably the best OS ever released for personal computers. Fast, stable, elegant, and intuitively easy to use, OS X makes owning a Mac once again a mark of distinction.

And once again the battle lines are clearly drawn between Macs and PCs. OS X is the anti-Windows. Unlike Windows XP, when you install it, it doesn't force you to type in a long serial number. Nor does it require any activation or copy-protection process, as in Windows XP (see BW Online, 8/14/02, "Arrogance, Thy Name Is Microsoft").

You can buy a family version of Jaguar for $199, or $70 more than the single-owner version, and install it on up to five Macs. Compare that to XP, for which Microsoft charges $89 for each extra machine you install it on. And OS X doesn't endlessly nag you to sign up for other services, as XP does. In short, OS X is all about the user -- not Apple.

SEAMLESS TRANFERS. In the ultimate comeuppance, Macs equipped with Jaguar can now connect and talk seamlessly with PCs. Apple built Microsoft's networking technology into Jaguar. On your Mac desktop you can now see the icon of any PC on a network, whether wired or wireless. You can then rummage through its hard drive, moving or copying files to your Mac. And all this is set up automatically for users. No need to fuss with confusing network settings.

Another networking innovation is a feature called Rendez-vous. At this point, it's more potential than real, but the potential is big. If adopted by other hardware manufacturers, such as Epson and Palm, Rendez-vous will enable your Mac to automatically recognize and connect with any device, wired or not. No more hassling with trying to get your PDA to sync to your Mac. I know that will save me more than a few gray hairs.

All in all, Jaguar sports 150 new features. Most of the big-ticket ones have catchy names such as iChat, a new built-in instant-messaging application that lets you automatically connect with AOL users. But what really makes Jaguar special are the scores of little touches, mostly without the memorable names. These are the unsung heroes that make OS X fast, stable, and useful.

THE UNBROWSER. Top of my list is a new technology called Quartz Extreme. It fixes OS X's worst problem: sluggish performance, especially on older Macs. Quartz Extreme uses a Mac's powerful video processor and video RAM to display the system's beautiful but resource-demanding interface. That frees the main processor to handle other tasks, such as opening windows and files.

Another of my favorite features is the revamped Sherlock. Earlier versions of this search application performed so slowly that it was nearly useless. Now Apple has transformed it into the unbrowser.

With Sherlock you can surf the Web without Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. Sherlock will find and display Web pages, pictures, stock data, and movie times and trailers, among other items. And it does this without pop-up ads and other marketing annoyances. In short, Sherlock now is a well-executed knock-off of Karelia's superb Watson utility.

OLD FAVORITES. Other conveniences abound. Jaguar has a little "find" box in the title bar of every window. Type in the name of a file, and the window will find it for you. Jaguar even brings back some beloved features from OS 9, including keyboard commands to navigate the system and files and spring-loaded navigation, which lets you drill through nested folders. And Jaguar beefs up its calculator, adding scientific functions and conversions.

Jaguar does copy several innovations pioneered by Windows XP. You can set text fonts to display without any jagged edges, more like what you see in magazines. And file names can be set to appear to the right of their icons. That frees space for other information, such as how many files are in a folder, to be displayed underneath the icon name.

Thank goodness, though, the mimicry stops here. Apple is no saint, that's for sure. But at least it wants to empower -- not control -- its users. And that distinction helps make the Mac truly special once again. Haddad, Atlanta-based correspondent for BusinessWeek, is a long-time Apple Computer buff.

Follow his weekly Byte of the Apple column, only on BusinessWeek Online


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