Panther has dumped Aqua in favor of a brushed-metal look for the Finder, which now includes a sidebar that replaces Favorites.
Once you reboot, you'll notice that Apple has abandoned the light and airy Aqua interface for the darker, heavier brushed-metal look of iTunes. The interface is also busier and less consistent than Jaguar's. When you turn off the Finder's title bar, for instance, the window converts to a completely different style with a gray title bar and no borders; it's not brushed metal, but not quite Aqua, either.
Many of Panther's interface changes seem to promote style at the expense of usability. The transparency of title bars has disappeared, so you can no longer tell if there are open windows behind the front window. Internet Preferences is also gone; to set your default e-mail client, you now have to go to the Apple Mail application's preferences. If you want Internet Explorer or Camino as your Web browser or if you want to change the location of file downloads, you have to go to Safari Preferences. And for no apparent reason, buttons have replaced tabs in every application--even non-Apple apps.
With Panther, Apple continues to create new places to park file and folder icons. Version 10.0 gave us the Dock; Jaguar added the Finder toolbar. Panther adds the sidebar, which contains drive icons and the special folder icons that were formerly in the toolbar, to the left side of every Finder window. (The toolbar now supports only generic folder icons.) As with the Dock and the toolbar, you can add your own files and folders to the sidebar, which also appears in Open and Save windows. Since the sidebar doesn't provide anything new and takes up more screen real estate, we don't see the advantage of it.
Unfortunately, in creating the Finder toolbar, Apple has eliminated the Favorites feature and crippled the Column view. When you click a sidebar icon such as Home, you can no longer go up the directory tree. Before, a click of the left arrow key would take you to the left column. Now, you have to use multiple mouse clicks to navigate back down the directory tree from the hard disk icon. Mac OS X 10.3 Panther boasts some impressive new features despite its dubious interface changes. We like the real-time searching in the Find field in the Finder toolbar; just type a few characters, and a list of files and folders instantly begins to assemble. Don't backspace, though, or you'll watch the cursor spin as Panther tries a new search for every character deleted.
Expose exposed: the F9 key shrinks every open window, letting you choose one by clicking it.
The new Expose feature makes up for the Dock's historic application-switching inadequacies. Press the F9 key, and all open windows in all open applications shrink to a tiled view. Or press the F11 key to whisk all windows off to the edge of the desktop. A direct copy of a third-party utility, LiteSwitch X, from Proteron Software, also improves application switching. When you hit Command+Tab to switch between applications, the middle of the screen displays large icons of the currently running applications, among which you can then choose.
Panther's real-time searching brings up returns almost as fast as you can type characters into the search field.
The inclusion of Apple's fabulous iChat AV is a welcome feature, considering that Jaguar users will have to pay $30 for it starting in January. If you subscribe to Apple's $100 per year .Mac service, accessing your Web-based files is now much faster. Panther automatically stores your iDisk contents in a cache on your hard drive. (Owners of external LaCie hard drives, beware: Some users have lost data stored on LaCie FireWire 800 drives after they installed Panther.)
We're also impressed with Panther's fast user switching à la Windows XP. This enables multiple users to be logged on to a Mac at the same time, letting you switch from one user environment to another without logging out or quitting any applications--all remain running in the background. Panther outdoes XP, however, by animating the switch, as the current screen appears to rotate on a big cube to the next user's screen. Another new feature, FileVault, offers built-in drive encryption technology. Unix fans will appreciate the inclusion Apple's X11 for the Mac OS X environment, probably the best implementation of the Unix windowing system for Macintosh.
Panther also increases compatibility with Windows networks, letting Macs function fully on networks with regard to file sharing, printing, and so on. There's better Active Directory integration and support for IPsec virtual private networks. Unfortunately, we found several problems with Panther's file sharing. First, Panther offers two different methods to log on to a server that yield different results. If you type a URL in the Go menu's Connect To Server window, file sharing is the same as before: the server mounts on the desktop and appears in Save windows, and a new drive icon appears in the sidebar. If you log on to the same server through the Finder's Network icon, however, the server doesn't appear on the desktop or in the sidebar, and in Open and Save dialogs of applications, you have to click through three or four levels of folders every time.
We also saw instability: Windows SMB files servers would appear, then disappear, when we tried to log on. Sometimes clicking the Network icon would lock up the Finder with the spinning beach ball. Searching user forums at Apple's Web site and elsewhere, we found other users having the same problems, although Apple told us it was unaware of these glitches.
Although Panther patches more than a dozen security flaws that exist in earlier versions of the OS, at the time of this writing, we could find no mention of these patches being made available for download for users of Mac OS X versions 10.2 and earlier. It doesn't seem right that the only way for older Mac OS X users to get the needed security patches is to shell out $130 for the new OS. Mac OS X 10.3 Panther will give you only a small speed increase over Mac OS X 10.2.8, the most recent Jaguar build. In fact, our tests show that with the exception of our iTunes benchmark, the 10.2.8-to-10.3 performance improvement is smaller than the one you get from upgrading from 10.2 to 10.2.8. In fact, 10.3 was a hair slower (less than 1 percent) than 10.2.8 on our Photoshop 7.0 benchmark. The largest performance gain we saw from 10.2.8 to 10.3 was on our iMovie test (6 percent). On our 3D gaming benchmark, Panther's frame rates on Quake III were 3 percent faster than the latest version of Jaguar, 10.2.8.
Our test installations of Panther and Jaguar were both new installations. Your mileage may vary, as Mac OS X has a tendency to slow down over time--that is, doing a clean installation of the same version of OS X will get you faster performance. For Panther, the single-digit performance gain by itself is not reason enough to upgrade.
Photoshop 7.0 test (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
iMovie test (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
iTunes test (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
CNET Labs uses three different applications (iMovie, iTunes, and Photoshop 7.0) to test the Apple Power Mac G5's performance. Through the use of a number of timed tests, CNET Labs is able to roughly determine the performance of a given system.
Quake III: Arena test (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III: Arena for OS X. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool.
Apple Power Mac G4
Dual 1.25GHz G4; 512MB DDR SDRAM (333MHz); 120GB 7200RPM Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB DDR; Mac OS X 10.2
Apple Power Mac G4
Dual 1.25GHz G4; 512MB DDR SDRAM (333MHz); 120GB 7200RPM Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB DDR; Mac OS X 10.2.8
Apple Power Mac G4
Dual 1.25GHz G4; 512MB DDR SDRAM (333MHz); 120GB 7200RPM Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB DDR; Mac OS X 10.3 For a company as meticulous as Apple, we are always surprised by the anemic support with which it backs its products, both hardware and software. Apple provides a 90-day warranty on the Mac OS X 10.3 CDs, but does not give you any free phone or e-mail tech support during that time or afterward. (Phone support costs $49 per incident.) You can buy support for your entire Mac, but the three-year period starts at the purchase date of your Mac; if you bought your Mac two years ago, your $149 to $349 (depending on which Mac you have) will get you only a year of support. If your Mac is three years old or older, you're out of luck.
Apple does offer some self-help options. Apple.com includes an extensive knowledge base and a large discussion board. The built-in Mac OS X help system includes basic information about performing most tasks. The 13-page setup guide is adequate, but the 24-page Welcome to Panther brochure gives only a cursory introduction to some of the features and bundled software.