Apple Unveils 64-Bit G5 Systems, and Panther OS

Apple takes aim at Intel with powerful, new G5's and shows off an updated developer version of OS X.

Apple Computer opened up its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco on Monday morning with a string of marquee-level product announcements. CEO Steve Jobs was on hand to show several of over 100 new features in a new version 10.3 of the Mac OS X operating system, dubbed Panther. Jobs also confirmed news which had been leaked to the Web last week (at Apples own Web site), concerning the arrival of three new systems based on Apples latest G5 microprocessor.

Panther was released in a developer version to attendees at the conference, and will ship later this year. It continues the areas of primary emphasis seen in the Cheetah, Puma and Jaguar versions of the Macintosh operating system, with many kinds of special graphical effects made possible by the OSs Quartz Extreme graphics engine.

The operating system features a completely overhauled version of Apples Finder technology. The new version of Finder is, according to Jobs, "people-centric rather than computer-centric." A users folders and applications sit on the left column of the new Finder, rather than being buried several columns deep, and folders can be easily dragged and dropped into the column on the left. A constantly available Action button lets users click once to find out what they can do with any document or folder. Open and Save panels contain more information than they previously did. Throughout all panels in the operating system there is a Fax button, much like a Print button.

Panther features fast auto-searching for files, where a search is launched as soon as a user begins typing. The Panther interface has several glitzy properties. For example, icons in Finder shrink and enlarge as Finder windows are resized. The OS also has a very crowd-pleasing way of treating windows and information in windows, which is called Expose. To illustrate, Jobs opened up several Photoshop files and some Web pages, then with one click all the pages shrank instantly to nearly postage-stamp size so that you could see an array of 10 pages on screen at once. With one more click, the pages tiled back into a standard-sized stack. Any key on a users keyboard, or a right mouse button, can be set to execute Expose, and Expose is flexible enough to let a user do things like concurrently see thumbnails of all the windows a certain application has open.

The mail features in Panther are also radically overhauled. You can view mail by threads, in a fashion very similar to the approach taken by Lotus Notes. The mail engine also contains the HTML rendering features found in Apples Safari browser. There is also VPN (virtual private network) technology in Panther, based on the IPSec security standard, and Panther contains an advanced QuickTime codec called Pixlet which is designed for what Jobs calls "studio-grade film and multimedia quality."

In one of the well-received portions of the keynote, Jobs showed Panthers iChat AV instant messaging technology. Jobs videoconferenced with a friend in Paris, and with Al Gore in Los Angeles. Through an IM buddy list, any user of iChat AV can see if buddies are equipped for IM-based video or audio conferencing via icons in the buddy list, such as one that looks like a camera. Along with iChat AV, Apple is shipping a brand new $149 videoconferencing camera called iSight, which mounts on the top of either a desktop system or notebook system. The camera connects by Firewire, and all of the features in iChat AV are designed to work on a plug-and-play basis, so that no setup is required for, say, videoconferencing.

Among other features in Panther, there is fast user switching, similar to the user switching found in Windows XP. By clicking one button, Jobs changed the system state on his computer from his own to a system state owned by a child. Panther also allows users to create .PDF documents within any application, and does what appears to be very fast .PDF rendering. In addition, Panther has a new set of developer tools built in called Xcode, which is designed to do fast compiling (compiling starts, in predictive fashion, even as a developer continues to build an application).