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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 10:29 GMT
Apple's Panther bares its teeth
By Ian Hardy
BBC ClickOnline in New York

Apple, fed up with playing second string to Windows, has been taking its operating system from strength to strength.

Panther screenshot
The Panther interface gets back to basics
The result is a new front end and some very solid Unix technology under the bonnet. Mac OS 10.3 or Panther is more stable, more capable and more adaptable than any Macintosh operating system before it.

In March 2001 Apple's OS went from Version nine to 10, considered the company's most important upgrade.

OS9 was proprietary and developed independently by Apple based on a graphical user interface that Xerox had devised and dismissed in the 1970s.

Ironically OSX was designed to be a cutting-edge platform for a new century, but Apple programmers went backwards before going forwards, using Unix as a starting point.

"OSX is based now on pure solid Unix," said Leonard Shostak, of L&D Computer Consulting, "a really old, tried and tested operating system that is accepted by most major corporations, especially financial institutions."

Tinkering away

The initial release of OSX was considered incomplete, but in under three years the progress leading to Panther has been dramatic.

Experts say Apple's way of working ensures a better end result than their competitors.

"Apple has always depended on the cleverness of its users to add new software, new features which they have done with relish," said computer scientist George Otto.

Mac user looking at a G4
Apple is hoping to tempt more people to use Macs
"Sometimes there is a problem. There are so many things that they do, that they step on each others' toes but that has continued even with OSX.

"Microsoft has always made it very difficult for people to get in and do things. They hide the operating system's features, it is difficult to know how things work and they don't encourage people getting in and making a lot of modifications."

That is not to say Apple does not make slip-ups along the way. Panther, for example, makes some subtle changes to the once sugary Aqua interface.

Indeed Apple CEO Steve Jobs called an earlier version "lickable", a word not normally embraced by techies.

"The Panther interface gets back down to the basic look that we associate with the Mac OS and I think it was Apple being responsive," said Matthew Rothenberg, Managing Editor of eweek.com.

"Aqua was very pretty, but I think the comfort level was a little bit off for some of these long time Mac users."

Crossover potential

But Apple is not shy about using good ideas from other sources.

Panther's dock for example resembles the Microsoft Windows Taskbar, but Apple's version is more stylish and fun.

Apple's latest OS X Panther operating system
Panther is based on Unix programming
Of course both OSs inspire each other. Windows 95 used the Macintosh folders idea and Windows XP became very aqua soon after the release of OSX.

The Unix bedrock has also attracted more and more software developers to the Mac platform, like Scott Lopatin who wrote a new blogging tool called Sparkpod.

"Mac OSX is attractive to developers because they can access not only the core programming languages but also the large selection of Unix libraries that are available," he said.

Sparkpod was written entirely with Apple web tools, but the majority of its users will undoubtedly access it from a Windows Machine.

Apple needs to increase its small market share and is trying to get Windows users to switch to Panther.

In the last year or so, Steve Jobs has dropped some bait that Windows fans have gobbled up.

A clear symbol of the crossover that Apple has used to its advantage with incredible success is the iPod, an MP3 player that works seamlessly with iTunes software, now available on both platforms.

The hope is that as more and more Windows users see how easy iTunes is to use, they may take a long hard look at Panther and decide to drop Windows completely.

Apple unleashes its Panther OS X
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03 Jun 03  |  Technology

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