In Depth: Apple's Leopard leaps to new heights

A refined look, revamped apps and new options build on an already solid OS foundation

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Safari, from beta to beauty

Users of Apple's own Web browser have had a chance to try out the "new" Safari since Apple offered up a public beta earlier this year that works with Tiger. The updated browser, for those waiting for the finished product in Leopard, offers more flexibility than its predecessor, but not as much as browsers like Firefox, which allow scads of add-ons to boost functionality. What Safari does offer is speed -- Apple claims it's the fastest browser out there, but, as usual, your mileage may vary. (FYI: A recent study of Safari on Windows shows it is the fastest browser on Windows, at least.)

In addition, Safari now offers more flexibility when you use tabbed pages to surf more than one site in a single browser window -- you can now drag and drop tabs to move them around and transform a number of open browser windows into one, with each window represented by its own tab.

Safari offers better "find" features for locating words or strings of text on Web pages. And, perhaps most useful for surfers, there's a "Reopen all windows from last session" option that lets you reopen all the windows or tabs that were in place when you last quit the app.

Safari find
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Safari's new user-friendly "find" feature. (Click for larger view.)

If you've tried out the beta version with Tiger, you already know what you're getting. And yes, it's pretty darn fast, especially when loading a large set of tabbed windows at once.

Preview does it all

Preview now does a lot more than simply preview files. While it started out as a basic PDF and image viewer, Apple has added numerous functions to Preview for Leopard, making it the Swiss Army Knife of Mac apps.

Now you can add your own annotations and "sticky notes" to PDF documents and rearrange PDF pages. Preview is integrated with Spotlight so you can more quickly find the PDF you want, and it allows for basic image manipulation such as cropping, resizing and alpha channel background removal. (Some features, like cropping, are already possible in Preview on Tiger.) Sure, Photoshop does these things, too, but who needs that when all you want to do is crop a quick photo?

Better yet, Preview lets you send photos right to iPhoto or Aperture and -- cool alert -- it can use global positioning system (GPS) metadata embedded in photos. If you're viewing a picture with GPS metadata, Preview can show you where in the world the picture was taken. And if you want to drill down even further, it'll show you that GPS location in more detail on Google Maps.

.Mac grows up

Apple customers with a .Mac account have a couple of new things to look forward to. Currently, .Mac subscribers can sync certain settings across multiple Macs, the key benefit being a consistent and customized session, no matter which Mac they're on. For instance, with syncing, a .Mac subscriber can change bookmarks or contact information on his work Mac, and those changes will automatically show up on his computer at home. Also, a Mac user can sit down at any Mac, enter his .Mac information and grab his own user settings.

 
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With .Mac, users can bring their Mail, preferences and more to any Mac. (Click for larger view.)
 

Currently, sync supports Safari bookmarks, iCal calendars and To Do items, Address Book contacts, Mail account settings, Mail rules, Smart Mailboxes, signatures, keychains and some third-party items. Leopard adds a few more tricks, allowing you to sync notes and To Dos with Mail, all of your System Preferences settings, Dashboard widgets, Web Clippings and Dock items. For .Mac members, that means any Macs they sit down to will feel like their own machines, no matter where they are.

For those times when accessing your home or work Mac is absolutely necessary when you're away, .Mac steps in to make things easier. The service offers a new feature called Back to My Mac, which gives instant access to the user's home Mac. With this option enabled, that home Mac shows up in the Shared section of the Finder, offering instant and secure no-hassle access to another computer running Leopard. .Mac's ability to bridge the gap between a home computer and any Mac on the Internet, securely, could be worth the price of .Mac alone ($99).

Note: .Mac changes for Leopard have caused degraded support for those running OS X versions previous to Tiger, including the loss of calendar syncing between Macs running 10.3 and 10.4, though some OS calendar syncing is still supported.

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