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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Spotlight in the spotlight

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Many users probably think of search functions in the same way they think of backups: They're only useful when something has gone missing. Wrong. Spotlight is a lot more than a search engine for your files, and with Leopard, Apple has built onto the version already included in Tiger.

Spotlight, which you can access from the charcoal-colored magnifying glass icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, is a far cry from Sherlock, the search tool that preceded it years ago. Sure, it'll find just about any file you need when you type in the file name. But it's also extremely good -- and fast -- at drilling down into the metadata on your computer to come up with the information you need.

That third-party application registration code that was e-mailed to you three years ago might not be anywhere in sight, but Spotlight will find it. Hit the Command key and the space bar at the same time -- another way of launching Spotlight -- then type in a word or phrase associated with the registration you're seeking, and Spotlight offers up all the matches it can find. As in Tiger, results are broken down by the type of file, making it easy to figure out which one is correct.

Spotlight
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Spotlight searches through your folders, documents, apps and more. (Click for larger view.)

But that's not all. In Leopard, Spotlight is tied to the built-in Dictionary application, so if you need a quick definition, type in the word, and the definition pops up.

Spotlight can also add, subtract and even do mathematical equations using the Calculator application. It can scroll through your Web browsing history if you're trying to remember some site you visited a while back. And if you've lost an application, type in the name, and you can now launch that app right out of Spotlight.

When it comes to new search features in Leopard, we saved the best for last: Spotlight now allows you to search not only your computer, but every other Mac on your network that has file sharing enabled. This will no doubt come in handy when you're looking for a file you created on a different Mac on your home network. It's going to be even more handy at work, where colleagues on Macs can easily find and share files, a boon for collaborative efforts. (For the enterprise user, Leopard Server also sports new, advanced search capabilities with Spotlight Server.) We'll offer a separate, detailed look at Leopard Server on Friday.

Mail delivers

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Although Mail has been updated to reflect the new unified user interface of Leopard, the program itself remains more or less what you'd expect Mail to look like. However, it has gained some powerful new features, even borrowing the idea of templates from iWork and Pages.

 
Spaces
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Stationery provides themes for your Mail messages. (Click for larger view.)
 

These templates can be accessed via the Show Stationery button, which, by default, is rightmost on a New Message window. Clicking this button slides open a space to view thumbnails of different themes, or Stationery. Clicking on any theme places it in the main message window.

As a nice touch, if you've already started writing your message, the text is placed in its proper place in the template. Personalizing your messages with Stationery is easy, and pictures can be added with drag-and-drop ease, making your theme even more personal. Oftentimes, themes have a cookie-cutter look and feel stale, but Apple's designs strike a nice balance between staid and gaudy -- and you can even create and save custom templates for reuse. Recipients should be able to see your Stationary-based e-mails just fine -- as long as they view their mail as HTML.

Mail also offers integration with Apple's iPhoto and Photo Booth apps. Start a new e-mail, and you'll notice a Photo Browser option next to the Stationery button, offering quick access to your iPhoto library and Photo Booth sessions. Like iPhoto '08, the Photo Browser adds a feature called Events, Apple's latest effort to turn bulging user photo libraries into something manageable. It assigns a single user-designated picture to sum up an album, and moving your mouse along an Event's thumbnail flips through the pictures in that album, making it much easier to find the picture you're looking for.

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