Apple recodes OS X Finder for ‘user-centric’ computing

Some features revived from OS 9, other borrowed from Win XP

Apple has torn up Mac OS X's old Finder file manager and has started on a new, more "user-centric", less "computer-centric" version, Steve Jobs told Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) attendees in San Francisco today.

Top of the list of additional features this new Finder will offer is Labels - colour-coding for icons that Apple last offered with Mac OS 9.

Finder's column view has been enhanced to make files easier to search, with a live search feature that narrows the search as you type in extra search characters. Again, Mac OS 9 offered something similar - typing a file name in List view narrowed zipped to the file in question in the same way.

The new version of Finder, which will be incorporated into Panther, the next major release of Mac OS X, due "before the end of the year", also offers a Windows XP-style Action button which shows what users can do with any given file, and an iTunes-style panel on the left-hand side of each window providing a list of volumes and key folders. Apple has redesigned the classic Open and Save dialogs to include this same side panel.

A distinctly Mac OS X element is the brushed metal look of Apple's iApps. Finder will get it too, making its even more an application and less of a key operating system component.

These Finder changes are just part of the 100-odd new features have been added to Mac OS X, Jobs told attendees, including dynamic network browsing, better Active Directory support, printing via SMB, an IPSec-based VPN technology, and faster PDF rendering than even Adobe's software can achieve, Jobs claimed.

The new release will also feature Expose, a technology that Jobs promised will make multi-tasking even easier. Based on Quartz Extreme, Expose tiles and shrinks windows into tiny versions on the desktop to provide a visual index of all the windows you have open, not unlike a set of Docked windows. Clicking on one instantly brings it to the fore.

Mac OS X's security has been improved with FileVault, which encrypts and decrypts a user's Home folder in real time, protecting your data if your Mac is lost or stolen.

As expected, Panther will introduce fast user switching, a way of switching between users without having to close down apps. Available in Windows XP, this features has been a constant of pre-WWDC Panther speculation. It is implemented with a menulet, users can switch quickly with or without having to enter their passwords. And there's a cute cubic map of the multiple desktops that's animated when a switch is made.

Mac OS X's Mail application has been enhanced, said Jobs, with HTML rendering provided by Apple's web browser, Safari. Safari's rendering engine framework has been separated from the app itself to allow other software to utilise it, Mail being the first. Mail will also be able to cope with recipients with multiple email addresses, and there's a bulletin board-style threaded view of each in-box, the better to track correspondence with particular individuals.

Incidentally, Safari has now gone golden master, shipping later today.

Panther will feature a new version of iChat, Apple's instant messaging application, which will soon offer full-screen video and audio conferencing as well as text chat. It offers your own image, picture-in-picture, so you can make sure your camera is pointing in the right direction. Speaking of cameras, iChat will work with any Firewire-connected imaging device. The software will continue to work with AOL's IM service, but soon with .Mac, Apple's subscription-based email service, and Rendezvous, its zero configuration 'instant LAN' technology - but not, it seems, other IM services, such as Yahoo. It even works with a 56Kbps modem, apparently.

Apple will bundle the new iChat with Panther, but OS X 2 users will be able to buy it for $24 - presumably Apple will point to this as a saving you can make if you spend $129 on Panther. Until release it will be made available as a free beta version.

The new version of the operating system finally - "by popular request", said Jobs - gets faxing built in, delivered through the OS' Print dialog. Just as you can now Save to PDF... with Panther, you'll be able to Fax... documents too.

Printing and document creation will be made more friendly with Panther's pro font tools, which allow users to better manage the typefaces at their disposal. Since Mac OS X has at minimum four Font folders, it comes not a moment too soon. And OS X's old NeXT-derived Font panel - which was only available to Cocoa apps in any case - is ripe for renewal. In its place comes an Address Book-metaphor font finder.

Like previous major Mac OS X releases, Panther will cost $129. Jobs gave no specific timeframe for the OS' release - it's due before the end of the year - suggesting that the company has some way to go before it's completed. Developers will get their first pre-release copies now, however. ®

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