Next Mac OS X Puts User at the Center

Sources said Apple's "Panther" release will focus on innovative personalization features designed to compete with Windows XP.

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.