Well, believe it or not, it is almost halfway between the release of Mac OS X 10.3 (or Panther) and Mac OS X 10.4, if Apple is going to stick to its release schedule. It seems that Panther is still going through some growing pains, though the recent release of OS X 10.3.3 should put an end to a lot of those. We shall see.
I have to say that while I love some of the new features of Panther -- like the revamped Finder, and of course, Exposé -- I was underwhelmed with the stability of Panther compared to Jaguar (Mac OS X 10.2). Jaguar never crashed on me, period. The only thing I had to be worried about was its pickiness toward RAM modules. If you are getting kernel panics under Jag, try swapping out memory chips.
Panther however, reminded me more of OS 9, believe it or not. OS 9 was robust, mature and polished. There was just one little thing: it crashed. When I saw Panther, I immediately appreciated its charming good looks, and saw that OS X was indeed maturing past OS 9. Finally OS X was as fast as its predecessor, and felt less cobbled together. There was just one thing: it crashed.
I was able to figure out that a lot of the problems came from doing an upgrade from an earlier OS X install. Even a clean install had issues sometimes. The best way to insure a stable Panther was to do an "Erase and Install", which sucked, because you have to back up all of your data (But you do that anyway? Yeah, right.) and then re-customize your computer, which can take days.
However, even with a fresh install, Panther still has some issues. Everyone at The Mac Observer is painfully aware of the Mail.app junk mail problem. 10.3.3 seems to have resolved the issues for me. I got one of those offending e-mails with no subject and no sender, I marked it as junk mail, and lo and behold, Mail just stared back at me. There was no unexpected quit. (Technically, even though the dialog kept telling me it was an unexpected quit when Mail would crash, I kept telling Apple that a quit under those circumstances was a quit that was completely expected.)
Though my experiences are overall very positive with Panther (for example, even though I noticed some instability, I never considered going back to Jag), I will say one more thing: I live in a suburb of Houston, the city where fading pop stars come to whore themselves up in hopes of reviving their dying careers (I'm looking at you, Janet). About once a year the power goes out here, but more often we get a flicker. Recently this happened, and my Power Mac went down. Boy, I hate that, but what I hate even more is when it takes about ten tries and two hours to successfully reboot. Finally, I just walked away after my tenth reboot was about ten minutes into it and came back in an hour. There was my Mac, working as if nothing had ever happened.
Still, that freaked me out enough to immediately order an interruptible power supply (UPS) from APC. Not having worked with UPSs from the modern era, I was pleasantly surprised that it had a USB interface that could tell the OS what state the UPS was in (fully-charged, plugged in, etc.). I was even more pleasantly surprised that APC fully supported Macs with both an OS 9 and OS X control panel. I installed APC's PowerChute System Pref, and set it to shut down my Mac when the UPS had two minutes of battery left. Cool! Now if there was a short power outage, my Mac wouldn't even know about it, and if it was longer my Mac would shut down properly. No harm, no foul.
I am guessing that I am not the only one who has experienced the fresh hell that is Panther when the power goes out, because 10.3.3 has a new tab under the Energy Saver Control called, that's right, you guessed it, UPS. I tossed APC's System Pref (sorry guys, just worried about a conflict) and told Panther to shut down when there was two minutes left on battery.
By the way, for peace of mind, I can't recommend a UPS enough. For about a hundred bucks, I bought an APC Back-UPS LS 500 Series. It provides about 12-15 minutes of reserve power, and no more of me running in circles on the floor like Curly whenever the power blinks.
Enough of Panther. What should we expect from the next cat from Apple? Is there a feature you would love to see? There is one I am dying for. Even though 10.3 has improved upon synching files through iSync and .Mac, I want more. For example, I want an easy way to share my Address Book contacts with my wife on her account on her iBook. I want a transparent way to have bookmarks and even e-mail be shared across different machines, even across different accounts.
Perhaps an Observer can tell me the technical issues I may be missing here, but here is how I think it should work. I sit down at my home computer, launch iShare, or whatever it will be called (or maybe this is a part of the Sharing System Pref), and mark files that I want to share. My bookmarks, certain client info, current columns, my address book, calendars, whatever. Obviously, marking a large iPhoto library for sharing would require a huge pipeline and some time, but why not?
Then at my work machine or laptop, from the Finder, I choose "Connect to Server...", type my URL or IP address, login and password, and mount my remote server. If you are on a LAN, Rendezvous takes care of this step. I am notified that there are files to be shared from this location and presented a list of those files. I check the files that I want to access and they are updated on my second Mac.
There are caveats. If I am on a different Mac using the same account updating bookmarks is easy, but if I am on another account then 10.4 would create a folder called Gary's Bookmarks in the other user's Bookmark file instead of replacing their bookmarks. I know there is a utility that provides that functionality provided you have a .Mac account, but what if I don't have one?
I even want this feature to address e-mail. I want be able to check my e-mail while vacationing with my laptop, respond to people, delete junk mail and file mail away, return from vacation and have the mail on my main machine be exactly what it is on my laptop. No checking "Leave mail on server" on my laptop, only to have re-download all of my mail at home, no manually transferring mail folder from one machine to another, none of that. Just a simple connect to server, and click the Sync button to sync up my e-mail accounts.
So, what do you think? Are there utilities out there that do that already? If you know of one, let me know and I will review it in a future column. I have tried several that claim to help with sync issues, but have found them to be lacking in some respect or another. Are there technical issues that you see that I am missing? Let me know.
And finally, what killer feature would you like to tell Apple to put into 10.4? I think speed and stability are givens, so let's focus on functionality that would make your life with your Mac even easier. Sound off! I want to know what you want from the next major revision of Mac OS X.