Apple sweats Mac OS X details

The latest round of modifications to Apple's next-generation OS demonstrates a new attention to the concerns of longtime users

While Apple Computer's plethora of high-profile hardware announcements hold pride of place at this week's Macworld Expo here, CEO Steve Jobs' keynote update on the status of Mac OS X will prove at least as strategically significant to the future of the platform.

Not only has Apple refined the new OS -- now scheduled to ship for $129 on March 24 and to come pre-loaded on all Macs beginning this summer -- the latest round of modifications demonstrates that the company has taken the concerns of longtime Mac users to heart.

Since the release of the public beta at September's Apple Expo in Paris, Apple has been actively soliciting feedback from OS X beta testers. During his keynote presentation, Jobs said Apple has acted on thousands of the responses it has received. As reported earlier, the feature set has been frozen, and development efforts have shifted to delivering the final product in seven different languages (Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish) in time for the first commercial release.

Jobs briefly touched on some new features, including AirPort, printing and font management and gave detailed descriptions of some of the other features that have been added to make the new operating system more familiar and useful to current OS 9 users. This screen shot shows six of the changes to the Desktop and the Finder under OS X.

  • Unlike its strictly ornamental role in the public beta, the Apple logo has returned to its traditional spot on the left side of the toolbar and has regained much of the functionality of the traditional Apple menu. Collecting many system-level actions (including OS preferences, the new Location Manager, sleeping and shutting down), the menu is accessible from any application.

  • A customizable clock, familiar to all Mac users, is available on the right side of the menu bar.

  • Hard disks appear on the Desktop. Users of the public beta had to tap third-party utilities to achieve this familiar Mac feature.

  • Finder windows are now customizable. The upper-right corner of the window toolbar features a new oval button that toggles the visibility of the toolbar in Finder windows. When the toolbar is visible, all Finder windows open up in the same window, much like a browser. When the toolbar is hidden, Finder windows behave as they do in OS 9, where a new window is opened each time.

  • In addition, the toolbar can be fully customized to a user's preferences. Via a dialog box, users can drag to and from the toolbar to create a custom set of buttons representing actions, folder links and views. Users can also choose whether or not to display information about the window contents, such as the number of files or amount of free space.

  • Icons minimized to the Dock display live content. This is not an entirely new feature but has been implemented more fully. During his presentation, Jobs minimized an active QuickTime movie to the Dock.

  • The Dock has been transformed from a static catchall to an interactive device. In the public beta, when an icon is highlighted in the Dock, the only information available is the name associated with it and whether or not it is active. Acting on vociferous feedback from the Mac community, the Dock now provides contextual pop-ups, depending on the properties of the docked item. Applications can be revealed in the Finder or quitted, folders present their contents in easily navigated nested menus and Control Panels let users modify system resources directly.

    The result of the tweaks: The oft-maligned Dock is a much more useful tool, combining the functions of several beloved OS 9 interface utilities, including the Application Launcher, the Control Strip and pop-up folders.

    These are only some of the modifications to OS X since the release of the public beta. On 24 March, full details of the new OS will be available, and a new era of Macintosh computing will begin. For more information on Mac OS X, visit http://www.apple.com/macosx/.

    See full coverage at the Macworld Expo Roundup.

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