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Leopard gets the jump on the competition



Mac users will have one more reason to be smug next week when Apple releases Leopard, the third major update to their popular OS X operating system.

Apple is on a bit of a roll recently. The iPod has become the indispensable device of the 21 st century, the switch to Intel chips has won thousands, if not millions, of new converts to Apple computers, and lower prices now allow Apple to compete on equal footing with other high-end computer companies. Given how sleek those computers are, and the new iMacs are indeed as sleek as they come, the real attraction will always be how well they work. The reason is the OS X system, which is powerful, almost impossible to crash, offers dozens of programs and utilities invented by Apple, and is so intuitive sometimes that it’s scary. That’s why OS X is consistently ranked the top operating system by tech experts and reviewers, and has won pretty much every award available for operating system software design.

Far from resting on its laurels, Apple has regularly released updates to OS X that have not only improved on the previous version, but have also added unique new programs, utilities and capabilities. The newest version, Leopard, is no exception.

There are more than 300 new features in Leopard, some which you’ll have no idea are there working behind the scenes, some of which are for more advanced computer users, and some of which will make your life and work a lot easier.

I personally skipped the last update, Tiger, because aside from the addition of Spotlight and a few other features I really didn’t see the need to justify the cost. I will be getting Leopard as soon as it comes out.

Some of the features I like include:

• An update to Address Book that will let you find any address on Google Maps.

• Automator has a recording feature that will track and replicate your actions in different programs and replicate those actions automatically when asked. For example, you can use Automator to automatically rip an audio CD in iTunes, save those files to an external hard-drive, and transfer the encoded versions to your iPod.

• Updated Boot Camp software will allow you to run Windows XP or Windows Vista at native speeds and full compatibility — a must for gamers and people who have PC-only productivity software but would rather use a Mac.

• Dashboard now lets you clip sections of web pages and create your own widgets. I’ll be clipping the Environment Canada weather for Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb’s web cams. Apple has also opened Dashboard to other developers, so expect a lot of cool new widgets to come down the pipe.

• The desktop is being revolutionized in a few ways. One way is the creation of Spaces, that essentially configure the desktop for different users or uses — say one for work, one for creative, one for you, one for your spouse, etc. The stack feature is also kind of neat, and should reduce all the clutter of files and photos on your desktop.

• All your fonts will be organized into a Font Book, which you can print so you know how all your system fonts look on paper.

• Front Row lets you watch downloaded movies and television shows, similar to Apple TV.

• Quick Look lets you look at any document without actually opening. Good for huge PDF’s.

• The Time Machine lets you automatically back up everything onto an external hardrive, go back in time to find files or restore your computer.

• The iLife Media Browser lets you open iLife content (iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, GarageBand) from any OSX application.

• The improved Spotlight search tool lets you search other Macs in a network, use advance Boolean search techniques, answer math equations, and search your web history.

• Preview has been upgraded to work better with PDFs, as well as allow some basic manipulation of files. Images with embedded GPS data will also work with Preview.

• Parental controls let you limit children’s access to the web, as well as access to the computer. For example, you can program the controls to lock your child out at 8 p.m. every night, log their activities in detail, and limit how much your child can use on the computer each day. The last feature will make grounding obsolete.

• Mail 3 has a lot of new features, including the ability to make To Do lists from mail content, browse your iPhoto library when adding attachments and graphics, send messages with stationary backgrounds, create archives for messages, create smart mailboxes that manage how e-mails are archived, and more easily create new contacts. Formatting will also be improved, allowing for things like lists and indentations.

A complete list of Leopard features is at www.apple.com .

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