I should start by telling you what I don't like about Jaguar, the latest upgrade to Apple's Macintosh operating system.
The first is its official name, Mac OS X 10.2, which sounds like an incremental upgrade. Jaguar is a major step forward. The second is the stiff $129 price tag, with no break for upgrades from earlier OS X versions.
The third has been an issue since 10.0 - lack of scanner support. Although Apple says 10.2 has TWAIN support and that its Image Capture software works with some scanners, many Mac owners still need to boot into the old OS 9 to scan an image.
Scanner drivers that exist are unfinished "beta" versions. The scanner manufacturers blame Apple for the delay, saying it has not provided essential technical information.
Otherwise, Jaguar is everything that Apple has billed it to be. In fact, it's one fast feline. It boots faster, scrolls faster and launches programs faster than its predecessor. And it has plenty of new features.
Computers that just meet its minimum system requirements - early iMacs and iBooks in particular - actually benefit more from Jaguar than high-end Macs do. Testing Jaguar on a 600 megahertz iBook, I found it nearly as responsive as my heavy-duty, 867 megahertz G4 Quicksilver tower.
However, both machines were loaded with system memory - more than a gigabyte on the Quicksilver and 640 megabytes on the iBook. Mac OS X benefits from extra memory more than Mac OS 9. My advice is to have at least 256 megabytes installed - double Apple's recommended minimum.
Installation went smoothly on both machines, taking 30 minutes on the Quicksilver and 90 minutes for the iBook. Unfortunately, I did an "upgrade" install, which resulted in sluggish systems for the first few days. After using Apple's bundled Disk Utility to fix file permissions (a tip I picked up in a Mac forum on the Web), my computers really started to hum.
As it turns out, the best way to perform the upgrade is to choose "archive and install," which creates a clean system while saving your old settings in a separate folder.
Besides better performance, Apple says OS X 10.2 includes more than 150 new features. Among the more obvious:
Sherlock 3: The new version of OS X returns hard-disk searching to the Finder, leaving Sherlock as a full-tilt Internet utility. One of its "channels," labeled Movies, pulls up all the films playing at theaters in your neighborhood, complete with show times, plot summaries and a QuickTime video trailer if available.
The AppleCare channel connects you directly to the Apple tech support site, while Yellow Pages searches for local businesses, displaying directions and a map. You also can use Sherlock to track your stock portfolio (company news and charts included) or current airline flights across the United States. True, you can do this with any browser; the beauty of Sherlock is how it consolidates information into convenient windows.
(Many of Sherlock 3's features have been available in a $29 shareware application called Watson from Karelia Software. That company recently introduced a Jaguar-compatible version that has nine more options than Sherlock.)
Networking: Everything about networking is easier. Thanks to the inclusion of Microsoft protocols, a Mac running Jaguar can now see Windows PCs on a network as well as other Macs. Those Windows PCs can see the Mac, too, without third-party software or other tweaking.
Jaguar also introduces a technology called Rendezvous that allows Macs and other Rendezvous-enabled devices, such as printers, to connect with zero configuration. Although few such devices exist now, the concept holds great promise if Apple succeeds in persuading other vendors to adopt it.
Finder: Apple listened to feedback from disgruntled early adopters of Mac OS X and brought back "spring-loaded" folders - a feature from OS 9 that automatically pops open a folder when you drag an item over it. Other useful improvements to the Finder include more detail on files when using the Get Info command and icon tags that identify which program owns a document that has been minimized in the Dock.
iChat: This AOL-compatible instant messaging program allows you to use either an America Online account or one created with Apple's Internet-based .Mac service. It displays message text in colored, 3-D balloons over photos or icons of its instant-message users, which is cute, but I'd rather have a program that can access the MSN and Yahoo networks as well as AOL.
Address Book: A completely new feature, the Address Book is designed as a single resource for any program that needs data from a contact list, such as names, address, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Of course, to make it work, developers will have to include Address Book support in new releases of their software, but I like the idea.
Is all this worth $129, especially considering Apple's hardball pricing?
If you have a Mac with enough horsepower to run Jaguar but you're still using OS 9, it's definitely worth upgrading. If you're already using OS X 10.1, then Jaguar isn't a must-have release.
However, Apple's latest free software - for Jaguar only, naturally - may sway you. The first, the calendar program iCal, debuted Sept. 10. Another app, iSync (for syncing data between your Mac and an iPod or Palm Pilot) is also due this month.