Next Mac OS X Puts User at the Center

By Nick Ciarelli  |  Posted 2003-04-21

Next Mac OS X Puts User at the Center

Apple Computer Inc. is planning to put the user at the center of its next major release of Mac OS X.

According to sources, thats the umbrella term the Cupertino, Calif., Mac maker is applying to an arsenal of innovative new features in store for Mac OS X 10.3, a k a "Panther," reportedly due to ship in September.

They said User at the Center features will make it simpler for individual users to personalize their computing experience and to move seamlessly among Macs and other devices. And as a marketing strategy, Panthers User at the Center capabilities are intended to challenge user-centric capabilities of Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP as well as its forthcoming "Longhorn" client.

Features of the OS reportedly wont be frozen until May, but a variety of enhancements are in the running that will encourage pervasive, mobile computing. For example, one proposed feature will let users take home directories theyve saved on peripherals and networks and use them for file access or securely log into a Mac running Panther. Sources said the feature will let users synchronize their home directories with mobile devices or log onto a system via Apples .Mac service.

Another candidate feature will let users log out of OS X and then log back in as another user, without having to close open applications. This capability resembles the "Fast User Switching" feature of Windows XP.

In addition, sources said Panther will finally mark the debut of the much-discussed "piles" GUI design concept, which Apple patented in June 2001. According to the patent, piles comprise collections of documents represented graphically in stacks. Users can browse the "piled" documents dynamically by pointing at them with the cursor; the filing system can then divide a pile into subpiles based on each documents content. At the users request, the filing system can automatically file away documents into existing piles with similar content.

Microsoft has made no bones about the fact that it is also trying to implement more-intuitive features for information storage and retrieval by the time it delivers Longhorn. Sources said Longhorn should reach users by early 2005.

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Along with piles, sources said Panther will include enhancements to the Mac OS file system that build on the journaling capabilities Apple introduced in November 2002 with the introduction of the server version of Mac OS X 10.2.2.

The journaling technology extends OS Xs HFS+ file system and can be applied to current Mac OS volumes without reformatting. Users of Mac OS X Server can activate journaling by clicking on a "Make journaled" button within the Disk Utility application; they can also access it via the command line or remotely via a Secure Shell (SSH) connection.

The journaling scheme in Mac OS X 10.2.2 automatically logs file system transactions to guarantee file system consistency in the event of a crash. Journaled systems can retrieve lost data by consulting the "journal" log, restoring the system to its previous state instead of having to go through the lengthy process of rebuilding it with disk-check utilities like Unixs file system consistency check, a BSD command that works with HFS file systems.

Sources said Panther will add more database-like structures to the file system, although the underlying file system will remain HFS+, ensuring backward compatibility.

On the performance front, sources said Apple engineers are racing to improve I/O performance and other factors, although they cautioned that the improvements may not be as dramatic in Panther as they were in the jump from Mac OS X 10.1 to Version 10.2. However, Apple has also given its engineers several more weeks of development time before the freeze for new features and user interface changes.

Apple in March announced that it has moved back the 2003 edition of its Worldwide Developers Conference from May to June to prepare a preview release of Panther.

Sources also said Apple will provide full 64-bit support in Panther, exciting speculation that the company will use WWDC as the occasion to unveil Mac hardware that will tap the PowerPC 970, IBMs new 64-bit processor. If so, the September ship date for Panther is also a likely milestone for the release of new Mac systems.

A spokesperson for Apple could not be reached for comment.

eWEEK first reported in August 2002 the Panther sobriquet, which continues the feline marketing theme Apple initiated that month with the release of "Jaguar," a k a Mac OS X 10.2.

Panther will mark the third significant upgrade to Mac OS X since its debut—and the fourth big cat from Apple. The initial Mac OS X release bore the internal code name Cheetah, and Mac OS X 10.1, which shipped in September 2001, was referred to internally as Puma, although neither moniker was ever publicized. (Mac OS X 10.2 Server was code-named Tigger, sources said, another sobriquet that never saw the light of day.)

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