Leopard apps and system tools offer subtle, yet powerful, changes

Mail, iCal and Parental Controls offer greater productivity, protection

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The To Do item is another great feature with a simple yet intuitive "why didn't I think of that?" interface. You can add a To Do by selecting some text in an e-mail and hitting the To Do button or by right-clicking and selecting New To Do. If you want to start from scratch or with material copied from another application, just click the To Do button in the toolbar.

Once you create a To Do, the item shows up in between the message list and the reading pane -- right in the middle of the screen. If you add more, they will be stacked on top of each other, and you can rearrange their order by simply dragging and dropping.

You can make a To Do item out of any selected text in a message
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You can make a To Do item out of any selected text in a message. (Click for larger view.)

You can also set an item's priority and due dates, set up alarms, and assign it to an iCal calendar. When the item is completed, simply mouse over it until a red X appears. Click it and the item goes away.

Notes works in a similarly straightforward fashion. Selecting a Note creates an e-mail that looks like a page from an old yellow-lined notebook. You can, however, use modern HTML text and image formatting in the Note. Saving a Note uploads it to .Mac or to your IMAP server just as an e-mail would be. You can then see your Note on any Mac or iPhone that is synced with that server. If you have more than one account, you can choose the one your note uploads to.

To Dos aren't stored on the server, so they don't sync by themselves. But you can embed To Dos within Notes and sync them that way. All of this may take a while to get your head around, but after using them for a few days, I am already starting to wonder what I did without them.

Smart Mailboxes have also been beefed up. You can now make a new Smart Mailbox by right-clicking on an existing one, selecting Duplicate and editing it from there. Smart Mailboxes are also quicker at gathering data than they were in Tiger, repeating a theme that carries over elsewhere in Leopard: Old functions and new are snappier.

One of the biggest additions to Mail from an aesthetic standpoint is the Stationery tab. When creating a new e-mail, clicking the Show Stationery button in the upper right presents a menu full of designs that range from birthday cards to photo templates to fun notes. You can also browse your iPhoto Library for images to drop into your e-mail or stationery template by clicking the new Photo Browser button.

Mail's Stationery feature gives you many options for pretty -- if large -- messages
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Mail's Stationery feature gives you many options for pretty -- if large -- messages. (Click for larger view.)
 

The downside to using Stationery, of course, is that it inevitably increases the size of a message -- e-mails that would be only a few kilobytes in size as text can easily get several times larger once you add graphics and photos. But if tools become available for creating third-party stationery or corporate identity templates, this may well become a huge sleeper feature.

You are now also able to create Archives of POP3 accounts by right-clicking on the mailbox. While a lot of people will be using Leopard's Time Machine backup feature, it sure feels better to have a fully portable copy of your e-mail account in .mbox format.

Archives don't appear to be compressed -- in my testing, their file sizes have corresponded with the original mailbox size -- but you can always compress the Archive after exporting.

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